Never too old to play sports

Athletics: Some who take up a sport later in life say it is essential exercise that keeps them happy and in good health.

Howard At Play

September 15, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

You needn't be a kid to start playing a sport. If you are in your upper 30s, 40s or older and one of your wilder dreams is taking up that game you've never tried, try doing it. The one requirement seems to be relocating that kid in your heart.

A sampling of Howard countians who got relatively late starts in their sports produces, predictably, exercise and weight control as reasons for starting a new game. But you hear other reasons, too, plus encouragement to come join the fun.

Take Columbian Lou Amster. He took up tennis at 48. He still plays -- looking forward to a tournament later this month, in fact -- at 84.

"I'm an old codger with a young outlook on life," Amster said, back from morning doubles at Centennial Park. One reason he and his wife moved to Columbia in 1970, he said, was good tennis courts.

He said he has won five Columbia titles in doubles in the 1970s and 1980s and was "runner-up eight or nine other times." Amster still plays two or three times a week.

"I gave up golf -- too exacting, but tennis is also a mind sport," he said. "It's just a matter of redundancy and repetition. It's fun, and it keeps you young."

Sports aren't just a guy thing. Talk with Dona Dezube, 41, another Columbian.

A middle-school soccer player in Wilde Lake, she resumed the game at 28 and now not only plays but helps run a program for beginners started by Laurel resident Rick Crow called Soccer Moms.

"My kids were having fun in soccer, and I wanted to learn more about the game," said Dezube, a field hockey player in high school before there was girls soccer, a nonathlete in college and a financial writer for trade magazines now.

"I was like a lot of women, I think," she continued. "I sort of discovered a part of myself that I never knew was there. ... You finish college, work on your career, get married and start having kids, and before long, a lot of time has passed. But it's like you reach back to recover a really happy time of your life."

Talk, too, with Leanne Glueck, a Fulton mother of two who is another late convert to soccer but has developed enough confidence to coach a western Howard County rec-level team of 7-year-old boys this fall. She started soccer four years ago, also through Soccer Moms.

"I went to some meetings for new coaches, and it struck me that most of the dads there had never played, while I'm playing all the time," she said, explaining that she's on an indoor team and an outdoor team at the moment. "So, I can do this. I want to be a good example for the kids."

Glueck's athletic background is deeper than that of Dezube and Amster. She was a scholarship softball player at Hartford College in the late 1980s but never played soccer.

"I started soccer for exercise and just got hooked. My biggest regret is that I didn't play when I was younger," Glueck said.

Both she and Dezube say socialization is an added joy of adult sports.

"You can have fun with a friend in, say, aerobics," Dezube said, "but I love team sports because there's support and a social boost you just don't get otherwise."

Starting a sport later in life needn't be as difficult or costly as it might seem. Group lessons are available in most individual sports, which cuts expense, and Ellicott City has at least one used-sporting-goods store.

Older adult beginners needn't worry about being thrown in with a bunch of 18- to 25-year- olds, either. Age-group competition is standard in just about every sport, meaning you compete like the kids -- against people your own age, size, skill level and, sometimes, with rules altered to minimize injury.

The county rec department has softball, volleyball, soccer and flag-football leagues for men, for women and, except in football and basketball, for mixed teams. Volleyball House in Elkridge has weekly drop-in play, and SoccerDome, a two-field indoor facility scheduled to open in Jessup in November, also will have open play on its docket each week.

Columbian Dick Shepherd, a banking technology employee for 34 years, resumed softball for the first time in decades in the 22-year-old Cindy LaRue Co-Rec Softball League, which is pitched at older players, empty nesters and first-timers. He's moved on to two over-50 leagues.

"I've actually cut back a few games because of arthritis in my knees," he said. "But last year, counting pickup games, I played in 160 games, and I'm going to play until I can't anymore."

Want more information?

If you're an adult who thinks now might be a good time to start participating in a new sport, here's how to find out more:

The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, 410-313-4700.

The Columbia Park and Recreation Association, 410- 715-3000.

The Howard County YMCA, 410-465-4334.

All have Web sites, as do the Howard County Striders, Volleyball House and SoccerDome.

Also watch local newspapers for information on various clubs and events - and don't be shy. Show up, and ask how you can join in.

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