Table tennis thrives on Vancouver Island, thanks to support from the 50+ crowd. After not playing since childhood, many are taking up the sport again for the excellent health benefits.
Gerhard Sorger, 78, started to play the game in Europe when he was just 13 years old and played until the age of 23. Soon, life intervened and Gerhard joined the army, got married, opened his own business and, finally, retired and moved to Courtenay. After 50 years of not touching a table tennis racket, he heard there was a table tennis club in Courtenay, which he joined in 2005.
"I participated in the 2007 Nanaimo B.C. Seniors Games but had no luck winning anything," he says. "In 2009, again I tried my luck in Richmond, where I got a gold medal in the men's singles at the age of 76. I will enter again this year and every year as long as I can, because I just love this sport."
Bodies are designed to move and be active and playing a game is a great way to get exercise. The game of table tennis delivers in so many ways.
Terry Wei joined the Seniors Club in Nanaimo at the age of 55. As a beginner, she played at Bowen Park and now plays three times a week at the Departure Bay Activity Centre.
"Playing table tennis is not just an excellent exercise, it's fun too," says Terry, 71. "Our club is just like a big family. I am enjoying every moment in the club."
Table tennis, affectionately known as ping-pong, has shown promise in the fight against early stage Alzheimer's, which affects over half a million Canadians today. Steadily gaining media attention, even Oprah's favourite doc, Dr. Oz, dedicated a whole segment of his TV show to the benefits of table tennis, describing it as his favourite "brain" sport, helping to reduce the risks of cognitive impairment and dementia as well as preserving mental abilities.
The game is universal, with no language barriers, and is the second most popular organized sport in the world. That's why Victoria's David Smylie, 54, who travels extensively with his job, always packs his table tennis gear.
"There is usually a club wherever I go, so I can get my table tennis fix," says David. He calls it a "game for all ages. At 76, my dad, who introduced me to the game, still plays and credits table tennis to his being alert, agile and fit!"
In Duncan the Cowichan Table Tennis Club, started over 20 years ago by Frank Enns, 71, to allow seniors to practise prior to participating in the B.C. Seniors Games, has since expanded and evolved into a drop-in club where coaching and lessons are available for all. Frank, the South Island co-ordinator for the B.C. Seniors Games, still enthusiastically runs the club.
"Some members have played in the past and are taking the sport up again for exercise and the social aspect," he says. "Some have decided to take up a sport that can be played all winter. Our oldest player is 88 years young and still playing!"
Most players on the Island are recreational, but a significant number are looking for opportunities to test their game against different opposition, outside their home club, in an effort to improve.
For these more competitive players, this year sees the start of the Vancouver Island Table Tennis League. Five teams from Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell River, involving the top players on the Island, will compete for the League Championship. All but a handful of the participating players are over 50 years of age. Details of upcoming matches, times, locations and results are posted on the Vancouver Island Table Tennis Association website: www.vitta.ca. Spectators are always welcome.
Also new this year, Nanaimo will host the Vancouver Island Seniors Championships, on September 5th – open to Island residents over age 50.
Want to get involved? The VITTA website lists venues across the Island, many specifically for seniors, where players of all abilities are welcomed and encouraged to "get out of the basement" and play.
For more information, visit www.vitta.ca
SEPTEBER 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND