JoAnn Lathrop, 70, and local teammates are competing today in the USTA Super Senior League district finals in Denver. Lathrop also has competed or will be competing at the district level in adult league and senior league tennis this year.

Tamera Manzanares/courtesy

JoAnn Lathrop, 70, and local teammates are competing today in the USTA Super Senior League district finals in Denver. Lathrop also has competed or will be competing at the district level in adult league and senior league tennis this year.

Aging Well: Age no match for local tennis competitor

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Resources

• Tennis for Beginners, a class at Colorado Mountain College, is in progress. For more information about current or upcoming tennis classes at CMC, call 870-4444. Adults 62 and older living in district (Steamboat School District RE-2) receive half-price tuition on credit courses.

• For information about the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, including opportunities to learn tennis or sharpen skills, visit www.10s.com or call 879-8400.

• For more information about competitive tennis and adults/senior leagues in Colorado, visit www.coloradotenni...

JoAnn Lathrop is accustomed to being a decade or so older than her tennis peers, but only recently has she been comfortable revealing her age.

After overcoming a string of injuries, she is grateful to be playing the game and proud to be doing it at a competitive level.

"I think I just appreciate at my age being able to compete," said Lathrop, who celebrated her 70th birthday this year.

Lathrop's passion for the sport paired with an enthusiastic and supportive tennis community that includes many older adults, will take her to the United States Tennis Association district finals in Denver three times this year.

Today, she and seven other teammates will compete in the Super Senior League, which is for players 60 and older. Earlier this year, she competed in Denver with an adult league team - they lost in a nail-biting tie-breaker - and will hit districts again in September with a senior league team (players 50 and older).

"It's really impressive to go down there and see so many older fit people playing competitive tennis," she said.

For proof that tennis is a lifetime sport, take a stroll through the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs mid-day or sit in on a tournament. Older adults from 50 to 100 are learning or re-introducing themselves to the sport, enjoying regular matches and social time or, like Lathrop, pushing themselves in competition.

Lathrop, who has been playing competitive and non-competitive tennis for 38 years, credits a strong local tennis community and the tennis center - an indoor/outdoor public facility - for enabling people of all ages to pursue the sport.

Multiple teams of older adults provide plenty of local competition so that teams aren't constantly traveling. Lathrop expects there will be three super senior teams next year.

Tennis challenges players physically and mentally, improving and maintaining cardiovascular health and agility and encouraging concentration and focus.

Competing takes these benefits to a new level. During a match, players can't afford to be distracted by problems or thoughts pulling on their minds.

"Your mind has to stay centered and you have to hold that concentration," Lathrop said. "There are some days when I think a bomb could go off next to me and I wouldn't notice."

Like many activities, recreational and competitive tennis encourage camaraderie and provides plenty of opportunities for players to mix matches and social time.

"I see beginners come out and have a ball meeting people," Lathrop said.

To continue playing competitive tennis, Lathrop has made adjustments to accommodate the natural aging process. Just playing tennis seems to relieve many of her aches and pains.

"I feel energized," she said after a match.

Wary of potential ski injuries, Lathrop has retired her skis. She's also opted to compete in pairs rather than singles.

Lathrop, who plays tennis five days a week, exercises with weights and stretches before matches to improve her flexibility and strength and make sure her muscles are warmed up before playing.

It's never too late for a person in good health to learn to play tennis or brush up on rusty skills. Taking a lesson or practicing drills with a tennis expert can get older people well on their way toward enjoying regular matches.

If a person is nervous or intimidated, he or she should consider tackling the process with a friend.

"You don't have to play on a USTA team," Lathrop said. "You can come out every day with your friends and enjoy it."

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com.

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