Age is served

May 23, 2004|by LYN WIDMER

Freddy Adu is receiving a lot of attention because at 14 years of age he is the youngest player ever to join an American pro soccer team.

Big deal.

I think the accomplishments of older athletes such as Mike Farrell are a lot more impressive. Farrell, 50, just completed playing four years of competitive tennis for Shepherd College (now Shepherd University). He won 146 games, lost 33, earned singles titles at the state level and ended his collegiate career as the most successful tennis player in Shepherd's history.

Not bad for someone who started playing tennis at the age of 41.

What astounds me is that Farrell regularly and consistently beats talented kids half his age. I called Farrell to find out his secret. "I am patient," he told me. "I return everything they send me. I don't try killer shots. I keep the ball in play and wait for them to make a mistake."


Unlike the older and wiser Farrell, younger and impatient opponents want to hurry and win. They try power strokes that go wide or smash shots that end up in the net. Farrell just keeps returning the ball, using his patented pingpong paddle grip developed from playing endless pingpong games when he was a volunteer fireman.

You don't have to be a tennis player facing teenage opponents to benefit from Farrell's game strategy. The idea of being patient with teenagers on and off the tennis court is pretty good advice.

I frequently engage in verbal volleys with Teenage Daughter. "If I trip over your book bag ONE MORE TIME I am going to throw it out," I lob. "I have had a hard day at school, give me a break," she returns. I wind up and deliver my kill shot. "Oh, yeah? I just put in a 12-hour workday and I would appreciate not risking a broken ankle in my own kitchen." I am yelling at this point and Teenage Daughter stomps away in anger.

Game, set, match. I lose. Next time I will try to apply the Mike Farrell philosophy of winning over teenagers: "endless patience endlessly applied."

I guess that is why I like reading about athletes old enough to get a senior discount when buying their sports equipment. Unlike youngsters like Freddy Adu (who probably still enjoys Kid Meals), the experiences of older athletes are more relevant to me.

Consider Max Springer, who began running when he was in his 60s. He recently won four events for men ages 90-94 in the USA Masters Indoor Track and Field championships. He beat out one opponent. Springer, a modest man, noted that opponents in his age group "thin out a good bit."

As I struggle toward my athletic goal of jogging two miles with hardly any stops, I think of Max Springer, who runs three miles every other day. "You have to have discipline," advises Springer.

Admittedly, discipline and focus are in short supply in my life right now. Last week, I went to the health club and chatted with a friend as I deposited my sweatshirt in a locker. After finishing my workout, I returned to get my clothes and could not for the life of me remember my locker location. I opened and closed 74 locker doors before discovering my errant sweatshirt.

Reading about athletes like Mike Farrell and Max Springer give me hope that even at my age athletic success is possible. One day I know I will be able to run two miles straight.

Remembering where I left my sweatshirt may be tougher.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail is:

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