Geezer jock: Senior athletes prove age doesn’t have to be an obstacle

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Everyone has the ability to be an athlete, regardless of age or experience. Every 30 minutes of exercise adds vitality to your life, no matter if you're a lifetime competitor or looking for a new hobby to enjoy during your retirement. Move your body; it will thank you.

Midtown Athletic Club, locations in Chicago, Palatine, Willowbrook, Bannockburn and Oak Park, offers Tennis in No Time, a program for beginners or enthusiasts getting reacquainted with the racket. Besides this fundamentals class, Midtown also has early-bird and matinee tennis sessions that are increasingly popular with seniors.

"The rally and hitting ball is one important part of the game," said the Chicago location's general manager, Michael Mahoney, "But also the camaraderie and social part of tennis is what makes it fun."

Mahoney said that, beyond nailing down the basics of tennis, adults enrolled can enjoy playing indoors at air-conditioned facilities. Moreover, the state-of-the-art tennis turf is easy on the joints.

"Tennis can bridge generations," said former United States Tennis Association president Alan Schwartz.

According to Schwartz, the tennis great Billie Jean King called Midtown, "the standard against which all tennis clubs should be measured." That is partly because beginners are so welcome.

The club, founded in 1969, partners with the USTA to put on more than 40 sanctioned events for adults older than 45 with categories every five years by age, including for-fun competitions for ages 75-plus. Many seniors have gotten back into tennis as adults through local events, and some choose to participate in regional and national recreational tennis events for people in their 60s and up, including those as old as 90.

Schwartz, 80, strives to use his racket up to three times a week. He spends time hitting the ball and giving coaching and stoke advice to his grandson, a ranked player at his high school and in Illinois.

"I don't want you to think in any way I can keep up with my grandson," Schwartz said. "But tennis gives me a chance to stay active and enjoy the pleasure of swinging the racket."

"When my grandson hits to me," Schwartz joked, "let's just say he's gentleman enough to ease up."

Those not interested in tennis have plenty of other options. The Wilmette Park District has a 50+ program with golf, yoga and more. Plus, tai chi and walking are low-impact ways to keep active.

Dean Paynter, 67, is president of the Rock Trail Coalition, an organization that advocates construction of bike trails throughout Wisconsin. Paynter bikes and jogs a few times a week, but he favors hiking, especially in the summer.

"Hiking is a great low-impact, active activity. It gets your legs moving, and better yet, you don't hear road traffic," Paynter said. "Instead, you get summer exercise while birds are singing and the wild flowers are out."

The Lake County Forest Preserve's website has a number of hiking and short walking areas listed, including MacArthur Woods in Libertyville. Plus, dog-friendly walking trails can be found in Highland Park, Wilmette and other towns closer to the lake.

For those more adventurous, Paynter recommended walking parts of the Ice Age Trail, which is an 1100-mile foot path that circles Wisconsin from Door Country to St. Croix. Still, keeping it local is a great way to enjoy the outdoors during a light workout.

"Our group of walking friends are mostly retired, many in their 60s and 70s," Paynter said. "It's become a part of my life and summer that I cherish."