"Motivated by a Memory" March 2017 Athlete of the Month

HUMANA Hero: Whitman “Pete” Cross, 85, Charlottesville, Virginia

During this 30th anniversary year, NSGA has asked athletes to send in their favorite “Memories of the Games” to share on our website and on our National Senior Games Instagram and Facebook pages. One came from a brand-new competitor whose memory goes back to 1987. An excerpt:

“I never realized until recently that I had watched the first [National] Senior Games in St. Louis. That year, I was in town for a business conference and heard about The Games, so I spent an extra day there just having the greatest time watching folks enjoying themselves. Now, this year I find myself entered to play pickleball in Birmingham where I lived for 15 years! It would appear that I just took a bit longer than most seniors to finally compete!”

Why did it take 30 years to get into The Games? Whitman “Pete” Cross tells us that while he has been exercising and playing recreational sports since witnessing that inaugural senior spectacle, his busy career kept the idea of competing in sports out of his mind.

He also never considered himself a great athlete. Growing up in Philadelphia, Pete played soccer through high school and says he was lucky to continue to play at the University of Virginia. “That was 1950, when soccer was just getting started at that level. If you could just kick the ball, you made the team,” he recalls with a laugh. “I couldn’t make water boy on the bench the way they play now.”

His graduate degree workload and career demands sidelined sports for several years, but a book put Pete back on track. “Along comes [Dr. Kenneth] Cooper’s famous book “Aerobics” in 1968. That was my Bible, and I started running for fun.” At age 50, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama to run a science museum and began to work out regularly to tone his body. His growing interest in fitness and health drove him back to college and to several certifications so that he could work in this field when he retired to Charlottesville, Virginia in 1998.

Pete walked into a part-time job 18 years ago by telling the owner of a company that had just built a large wellness facility that the burgeoning senior population required trainers with wrinkles. He began work with a medically-oriented fitness program that is now licensed by other clubs around the country. 

Four years ago, he picked up pickleball as it rose in popularity in his area. “I had some recreational background in tennis and squash, so it was just perfect for me. I thoroughly enjoy it,” Pete says. His first competitive tournament experience was the Virginia Senior Games at age 84, where he qualified for the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana. His early memory of The Games, coupled with his past connection to the city where it will be held, prompted him to go all-in.

He is determined, but somewhat daunted, by the pickleball skills he sees. “It’s incredible at the highest levels,” he observes. “You just wonder how a guy can hit the ball, spin around twice and make the next shot.”

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