The Unending Pickleball Honeymoon
by Eric Todd
What does a 72 year-old retired Air Force pilot and a 57 year-old retired Postmaster have in common? Pickleball...and love.
Self-described lovebirds Larry and Jo Honeycutt from Canyon Lake, Texas, say they met on the pickleball court and “one thing just kind of led to another,” Jo says.
The Honeycutts married about a year and a half after they met. Larry says, “I managed to find every excuse I could to go to her work and give her information and a paddle and all that good stuff, I would tell her it was on my way, but it wasn’t.”
“He stalked me,” Jo teased.
Larry had been playing pickleball longer. “So he was good about giving pointers and teaching you the finer points, He’s a good guy,” Jo added.
Even though pickleball brought them together, they no longer play together competitively. It had been necessary for Larry to play down to her age group in order for them to team up. “Jo and I played together for about a year. I told her she had a one-year contract and then she was cut off,” Larry said, laughing.
Larry says he can notice a difference in the hand eye coordination in groups that are fifteen to twenty years younger. He now enjoys playing in his own age bracket.
Fifteen years separate the two, but pickleball adventures and love bridges the gap. “I had to retire because work interfered with my pickleball,” Jo quipped. “Pickleball gives you a chance to travel and go to all these fun places,” she continued. “We’ve met a lot of good friends and we get to reconnect at these tournaments it’s a social thing as well as good exercise. You gotta keep moving. Move it or lose it.”
The Honeycutts are thrilled to be competing in the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana and are loving their first trip to Minneapolis. This marks the first National Senior Games for Jo and the second for Larry.
To continue their pickleball adventures the Honeycutts will be heading to the Dominican Republic this December for some more play time. A trip to the Caribbean is as good an excuse as any for extending a pickleball honeymoon.
Cyclists “Just Keep Going”
Cyclists assembled north of Saint Paul in the town of Hugo on Sunday for the 5K time trials of the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana. While many hoped to race their way into the record books, others were just happy to be racing at all.
John Taylor, 94, became the first person 90 years or older to ever compete in a triathlon at the Senior Games, he did so in which he accomplished in 2011. While back problems now keep him from running and competing in the triathlon, he still manages to swim and cycle. On Sunday, he was the oldest athlete competing in the 5K competition.
After heart valve surgery in March, Taylor was only able to bike a total of 11 miles in preparation before driving north to Minnesota with the goal to at least complete the 5K. He ended up eating up enough asphalt to complete both the 5K and 10K events. “I found out that some of the old stuff is coming back to me,” Taylor said.
Taylor finished the 5K with a time of 15:26.0. In the 10K the day before he had his fastest time in two years. The 2015 Personal Best feature athlete likes to talk about his accomplishments, but it’s not because he has a big ego. “I brag for one reason, to inspire others. You’ve got to just keep moving,” Taylor said. The Atlanta resident and University of Alabama alumnus already has his sights set on The Games in Birmingham in 2017.
Another athlete with a special mission was Victor Conaway. Just four days after qualifying in the California State Senior Games in Pasadena last year, Conaway suffered a massive stroke. He still gets emotional when talking about the people who helped him recover from his stroke. He and calls his support group “Team Conaway.” The former motorcycle racer set his sights on the 2015 Games with three goals: participate in the Celebration of Athletes sponsored by AstraZeneca Diabetes (in which he carried the California sign), compete in the 10K, and compete in the 5K. Check, check, check.
Through the influence of his father and an uncle, Conaway has chosen two mottos to live by: “Don’t tell me I can’t,” and “Never give up.” Tearfully, he spoke of his of his father, who in World War II was on a ship that got hit by an enemy plane. He went to another ship to continue fighting. His uncle was in the Battle of the Bulge. “They went through that, and all I have to deal with is a damn stroke? It’s pretty small,” he said.
“I guess it runs in the family. You just gotta keep going.”
Peyton Keeps Hot Pace
Oscar Peyton delivers yet another dominating performance by winning the 60-64 age group 100 meter dash at University of St. Thomas Sunday in 100 degree heat index weather. Get track and field and other sports' results by clicking the Results tab above that takes you to NSGA.com page.
Table Tennis: A Language Everyone Speaks
A game that’s played around the world brought people together at the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana. Sunday,Table tennis partners Yali Carpenter, born in China, and Ladislav Sranko, a native of Slovokia, won the gold medal in men’s 60-64 mixed doubles competition after a back and forth match that came down to the wire.
The two have been playing this intense, fast-paced game for a long time. Carpenter began playing table tennis at age six, Sranko at age nine. They come from very different parts of the world and grew up speaking very different languages, but love for table tennis helped them overcome any differences in communication styles.
Carpenter was delighted with how they worked together to capture the gold. “It was serious and intense, but very good,” Carpenter said. “It wasn’t hard playing together, we were both very tough players.”
Carpenter and Sranko met at a tournament a year ago and admired each other’s talents so much they decided to team up. With their combined experience,forging an effective partnership came easily and quickly.
Sranko also won men’s doubles and took second place in men’s singles. Carpenter came in third place for women’s singles and doubles.
Alice Tym: From Tennis to Pickleball, with Horses in Between
It turns out that Tym didn’t leave tennis for pickleball. She laid down her tennis racket to start a family. Tym had plenty to do raising her three children and running her horse farm in McDonald, Tennessee.
The spry 72-year-old tells it like it is. “Tennis is terrific I could talk for hours about it, but that was then, it’s not 1969 anymore and instead of crawling under a rock we need to be living for today. You don’t want to hear an old fart talking about their bowels or what medication someone is taking.”
Tym recognizes the fun, fellowship and fitness that Senior Games provide, “I think any kind of games that bring people together is wonderful. It’s tons of fun. I know there’s a whole lot of work and effort put into [the National Senior Games] and we really appreciate it.”
In addition to pickleball, which she learned to play four years ago, Tym also plays badminton and table tennis. She is planning on going to the upcoming World Games in New Zealand for badminton and hopes that one day the Worlds will include pickleball.
Tym, who grew up in Aitkin, Minnesota, loves being back in her home state. At the time, Aitkin, just north of Mille Lacs Lake, was pretty remote. “We didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have running water, it was fabulous,” Tym said.
After the Senior Games Tym will head back to Tennessee. She says she spends most of her time, “mowing and shoveling. And the grass is growing as we speak.”
3 Questions - George Freeman, 83, Foley, Alabama, Competing in Track & Field/Bowling
Note: George is one of only 8 athletes to participate in every National Senior Games since the first in 1987.
What’s your first impression of Minnesota? What do you want to see while you’re here?
I haven’t been here too long. I took the blue line in and it was only a buck and a half so it’s a bargain. And it’s above ground, not like a subway. You can look out and see everything coming into the city. Really quite impressive.
They’ve kept me alive. I’m competing in one year and training hard in the next. My whole family has medical problems like arthritis. I don’t have any of that.
Keeping your weight down, beating arthritis and all the diseases that seem to crop up when you get to be 70 or 80. I’m happy to be here.
Personal Best Empower Hour: “Go Dance in the Rain”
Saturday’s gathering featured two special guest moderators and several athletes who have been featured in the Personal Best health and wellness initiative begun in 2013. Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and Dr. Stephen McDonough, a member of the Council and prominent health and conditioning advocate, spoke about their efforts to promote senior fitness nationally, and then turned the talk over to the athletes.
The President’s Council mission matches that of the Senior Games, Pfohl said. “We know we want to create strong athletes, but we want athletes for life.”
83-year-old multi-sport enthusiast Leurene Hildenbrand regaled the crowd with a skit to set the fun tone for the program. Sporting a neck brace, arm sling and bandage wraps, she called out the excuses people make for not competing or being active. Fitness, Hildenbrand said, doesn’t have to live just at a gym.
“[My family] did farming on the side, we had no time for sports and all that. But, I must admit, being raised on a farm and having a farm after I was married served to help with a lot of things.”
Jane Kaiser, 65, was motivated to be active by her parents’ deteriorating health, and by her own time in a surgical intensive care unit. Kaiser, who is a nurse and conducts wellness seminars in the St. Louis, Missouri area, said “I’ve gotta walk the walk, I can’t just talk about it.”
Avid cyclist Mike Adsit credits The Games with saving his life. A four-time cancer survivor, Adsit cited studies that point to an increased rate of survivability when exercise is part of cancer treatment. “[Lance Armstrong] moved me to get off my tush and start cycling and I became a competitive cycler since then,” Adsit said.
Other Personal Best athletes who participated included trackster and psychologist Bob O’Connor, race walker Donna Gonzales, Monica Horstman (one of 7 Horstman family members who bowl in Senior Games), and two very active 90+ athletes, trackster and swimmer Howard Hall and cyclist Larry Johnson. Each one had a different story and spin on NSGA’s “new definition of Personal Best” as documented with the profiles and in-depth conversations assembled on the Personal Best page at NSGA.com.
A humorous moment occurred when Mississippian Gonzales, who taught Middle Eastern dance before becoming a race walker, was asked to teach the audience a few moves and the entire group on and offstage thrust their arms in the air and gyrated their hips with much laughter.
NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker and Communications/Media Director Del Moon both engaged the audience to participate and many shared stories and helpful ideas to stimulate others to be active. “We are presenting several great examples of athlete stories we have selected here, but every one of you has a story,” Moon said. “All of you practice the Personal Best attitude with your participation, and each of you holds the key to help open the door for others.”
As Hildenbrand pulled off her bandages, she offered some words of advice to folks looking for encouragement.
“Don’t wait for the storm to pass. Go out and dance in the rain.”
Thanks From the Heart
At the 2007 Games John and his wife, Janice Sullivan, were practicing for the next day’s mixed doubles tennis competition. They had just completed the first set of a match when Janice turned around to find John lying on the ground unconscious, not breathing, and without a pulse.
John had suffered a heart attack. Luckily EMS crews were able to reach him in time to save his life. He was taken to a hospital where it was discovered he had cardiomyopathy, or a weakened heart. He knew that in order to make his heart stronger, he needed to start exercising it, so he started a program of walking daily, then eventually jogging and running.
John and Janice returned to the tennis court in 2009 for The Games in San Francisco. Although they lost in the first round, they were grateful just to compete after having to withdraw in 2007. “You’ve never seen such happy losers,” Janice said. They have played in every National Senior Games since.
At the 2013 Games, John heard the story of triathlete Karen Newman and how she overcame breast cancer to continue racing. It was her story that inspired John to be in the triathlon in 2015. He stepped up his swimming and biking and became a triathlete.
John remains grateful for those who helped save his life and hopes that his fellow competitors will recognize the great work that the medical teams do. “Everybody here who is participating should thank the EMS crew. That’s what saved my life. If the EMS had not been on the site, I would not be here. They were determined not to give up until they got more support. Thank the EMS crew for being there because you never know when you might need them.”
Although John and Janice were eliminated in their mixed doubles tennis competition to end their 2015 experience, they return home again to Townsend Tennessee with the smiles of “happy losers.” John was selected to be one of the 2015 Humana Game Changers and enjoys being an ambassador for healthy, active aging.