Lily Yip, 59
Dunellen, New Jersey
There was a buzz in the hall when Lily Yip stepped up to play table tennis at the 2022 National Senior Games presented by Humana. After all, it’s not every day you can watch an Olympian play.
The Chinese born ace always excelled at table tennis and started playing professionally in China at age 12. Lily came to the U.S. in 1987 and became a citizen in 1991. What followed was a Hall of Fame career as player, coach and tournament promoter with high points of competing on Team USA in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, winning four medals in three Pan American Games, and earning many U.S. National Table Tennis championships.
Two of those doubles wins were special because she was partnered with her son and her daughter for them. Lily is proud to have coached them to each become national champions before they were 17 years old. “Judy has since taken over managing my Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey and I still coach with her,” she says. “Adam became a financial manager on Wall Street for a few years and then opened a ping pong club in Hoboken. You don’t make a lot of money with that, so he’s doing it for the passion. They are both happy and the exercise is good for them. That’s what counts.”
Helping others to learn and enjoy a game and gaining fitness is what motivates Lily now. “I kinda retired from playing since working with the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 so I could do more coaching. Then when I got past 50 my students started telling me I should go to Senior Games. My senior players wanted to go compete and urged me to come along.
“I had to help my students because it would motivate them to do better, and they might not go if I didn’t,” she recalls. Six of Lily’s students from New Jersey came to compete at The Games, and Lily was also able to visit her mother-in-law who lives in Boynton Beach near Fort Lauderdale.
Lily knew she would not meet as much competition as in the major internationals and USA Table Tennis events, but she was greatly impressed by the spirit and love of the game she witnessed. “Most of the athletes are amateurs and they don’t care as much about winning or losing. Everyone wants to win of course, but they are more relaxed and having fun.”
“For me, I’m getting older so it’s different,” she continues. “When you’re young you go to tournaments and really want to win something. Now for me it’s about health. It’s a good goal for me to continue to play a sport I have loved since I was a kid. And winning does make you feel good, right?”
The experience was so positive Lily is planning to return with her crew for the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh next summer. “It’s an inspiration for my students to see me go,” she adds. “I have been promoting the sport for the past 30 years. 99% of my friends play table tennis. It was good to go to see old friends and make new friends. When people come up to say hello it just makes you feel good.”
“Even though I’m getting older, my heart still feels young,” she concludes. “The 60-64 group better look out!”