Leonid Sukher, 70, Brighton, Massachusetts
Leonid Sukher has enjoyed table tennis since childhood. Growing up relatively poor with no access to equipment, he and friends made paddles out of scrap plywood to play. Little did he know as a youth that getting serious about his game would help regain his health later in life.
Born in Ukraine in a small town between Kiev and Odessa, Leonid emigrated with his wife and family members to the United States in 1998, moving from Chicago to Brighton, Massachusetts two years later for an engineering job. He continued to play recreationally but did not enter competition until 2007 when his doctor warned of high cholesterol and prescribed medications. “He recommended I should have more physical activity,” he says with a thick accent. “I had to stop sitting around so much, eating popcorn. I knew to compete you must participate, join a club, go to practices. I did and played my first local tournament that year.”
Leonid became a regular at the Boston Table Tennis Center in Medford and made his first National Senior Games appearance in Palo Alto in 2009. To date, he has won two gold and one each silver and bronze for medals. His brother Alexander plays badminton and the two have been at The Games together four times since then.
“He has won more medals at Nationals than me, so it’s a sibling joke between us,” he says with a laugh. “He’s a bit older and much stronger in his play than me, so maybe I have time to get more. But we are lucky that sometimes our schedule overlaps and we can spend time watching each other.”
Leonid, 70, enjoys playing with athletes of his own age and above but has also found partners in lower age groups as low as the 50-54 level. “I was just a bit luckier to win more medals when playing doubles with partners in lower age groups,” he says. “Also, there some luck for me to have a partner from a lower age group willing to play with me. I learn something from them, and they learn from me. It does help to improve my game.”
Some not close to table tennis might not think of it as an exercise sport, but Leonid is quick to point out that it requires a strong body and mind to coordinate actions. “Your brain is working, your eyes are working, your body is working. You have to react to the ball instantly in the moment and know what to do. I definitely think it might help prevent illnesses like Alzheimer’s.”
Another benefit from his participation is the friends he has made, and Leonid has given back by serving as the Table Tennis Event Manager for the Massachusetts Senior Games since 2014. One of his most coveted accomplishments is the achievement of a 2000+ USATT ranking, and he has competed in several national and world competition events, most recently the 2018 World Veterans Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas. “The USA Table Tennis organizers provided us with uniforms, and now I put mine on every time I play,” he says proudly. He will again compete in the event being held this year in Bordeaux, France.
The bottom line for Leonid is that he found an activity he loves that will keep him active and socially engaged for the rest of his life, and he credits his new sporting life for recovering his health. “If I do not play for a while I don’t feel so comfortable,” he says. “But when I play regularly, I feel so much better. The most important thing is you improve your health.”