November 2023 Athlete of the Month
By Del Moon, NSGA PR Specialist
Hiro Moriyasu, 76
Los Angeles, California
Hiro Moriyasu is one tough out, as evidenced by the two gold medals he collected in National Senior Games Table Tennis competition this summer in Pittsburgh. He has often repeated that feat since joining in The Games in 2013 and possesses one of the highest ratings for a player his age.
His secret? Hiro credits the intense training foundation he received as a rising young star in Japan. “In high school days we would practice table tennis for three hours, then do physical training – squat jumps, sit-ups, pushups, footwork without using balls and so on – and then we go run a 10K, which gives you long-lasting energy,” he explains.
“I don’t think American people understand this,” he adds with a chuckle. “This is how serious we take table tennis in Japan. Most others are there to have fun and don’t have my practice style, but to win you need to be physically ready to play table tennis, to hold your posture and quickly jump back and forth to play the ball.”
Growing up in Japan, Hiro played several sports and picked up a paddle later than most boys his age. “Most of my teammates start three years in middle school and then go to high school. I started after one year in high school, but by the end of my third year I was playing for the state championship with my team.”
Hiro let his regimen lapse and picked up smoking after coming to the United States in 1973 to study and pursue his teaching career, but he literally put his foot down to get back on track. “When I quit smoking and started running again, I couldn’t run a mile without being exhausted,” he says. “I had to slowly build up again.”
Hiro set a goal to run the Boston Marathon and qualified to race. However, he tore a right knee muscle and did not go to Boston that year. “I was crying in the doctor’s office,” he recalls. “But then I qualified the following two years and did run in 1995 and 1996. I didn’t do very well though – Boston’s very cold.”
Hiro continued running and competing locally over the years, though a back issue is preventing him from jogging currently. He has not run Road Race at the National Senior Games since it typically conflicts with his Table Tennis competition, where he is a dynamo with a spinning chop shot that stumps the competition.
“I was a defense player, a chopper, at high school. It’s not just hit, hit, hit. I ‘chop it’ back,” he explains. “Since I came to the US, not many people know how to hit a chopped ball continuously. So, I learned attacking games. I started with Senior Games so I could improve the offensive play. I was a defensive player by nature, so it took a very long time to change my play style from defense to offensive player.”
Hiro, who is also a certified umpire and referee, notes that the mental part of the game is critical for success. “Even though I have all these skills, I still have to come up with ideas for how to play each person,” he emphasizes. “This man might be better than I am, so how can I beat him? Just like a teacher makes lesson plans, I have to make a tactics plan. With no plan you definitely lose.”
The bottom line is fitness and quality of life, and Hiro is pleased he has held up well through the years. “People watch me play and think I’m 50 years old,” he says with a laugh. “Hell, I’m not! But I don’t want to be old. If I don’t move my body, I’m gaining weight. My movement is getting slower now, so I have to keep pushing myself with table tennis, running and sometimes swimming.”
“I wasn’t born as a runner or table tennis player,” he concludes. “I have to push myself, pushing hard to be better. I won’t ever just hit some balls and go home. No, I want to play better.”