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100-Year-Old Athlete Still Plays to Win

100-year-old athlete still playing to win
By Joseph P. Kahn, Boston Globe, June 5, 2009
FALMOUTH–One day after turning 100, Roger Gentilhomme did what he does almost every morning while he’s on Cape Cod for the season. He joined a group of friends for two hours of tennis doubles at a local condominium complex.
Gentilhomme more than held his own, too, flicking cross-court volleys past his opponents’ reach, slicing backhand drop shots, swatting serves with authority–all with a megawatt smile on his face that never seems to dim.
At 5 feet tall he may not look big, but he plays that way.
To call it old man’s tennis would do a disservice to Gentilhomme and his playing partners. Age is relative, after all. And at his age, Gentilhomme continues to amaze anyone who steps onto the court with him. “I’m off all medication now,” he boasted during a court change. “I’m starting a new century as a newborn kid.”
Gentilhomme (he pronounces it GEN-til-home) is not only a model of how to age gracefully, but he might be the most decorated Massachusetts athlete you’ve never heard of. In August he’ll enter the 2009 National Senior Games in San Francisco, one of six registrants vying for a gold medal in tennis (singles) in the 90-and-over age bracket. Over the past 15 years, he’s collected more than 40 gold medals, and nearly 50 overall, in various state, regional, and national tournaments competing in three sports: tennis, bowling, and shuffleboard.
Named “Male Athlete of the Year” at the 2007 Florida Senior Games, Gentilhomme took home a pair of golds at the National Senior Olympics in Kentucky that year, followed by two more (in tennis and bowling) at the 2008 Massachusetts Senior Games in Boston. In September he’ll travel to the Netherlands for the World Senior Games, where he’ll bid to become the Bay State’s super-senior version of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
“The big question everyone asks is, ‘What do you attribute this to?'” Gentilhomme said during a conversation at his home in Falmouth before driving himself to tennis. “Well, I can’t attribute it to anything. I haven’t the slightest idea why I’m here. But–and here’s what I tell everyone–I do watch out for myself. If something starts irritating me, I try to find out what it is and get it fixed.”
There have been a few things in need of fixing over the years, Gentilhomme admits, including being treated for esophageal cancer in 1987. He’s undergone two hernia operations and took a nasty fall on a tennis court 15 years ago, sustaining a concussion that kept him out of action for a year.
His hearing has deteriorated badly in recent years, and he’s been battling to keep his weight above 115 pounds, 25 fewer than he used to weigh. But his blood pressure is normal–his doctor recently took him off hypertension medication–and he would eat more ice cream to pack on the pounds, he said, but he’s become lactose intolerant.
His daily regimen would be the envy of most men 30 years his junior. Rising around 7 a.m., Gentilhomme typically plays his two hours of tennis in the morning, then takes a brief post-lunch nap before heading to the fitness club for aerobic work and weightlifting. Weekly square-dancing and bowling sessions, piano and card playing, gardening, bike riding, and reading–all help keep his mind and body engaged. After watching the 11 p.m. news, he’ll catch up on e-mail before turning in. Born during the Marconi era, Gentilhomme is now a Google guy.
Gentilhomme’s born-again athletic career is the latest chapter in what has been a remarkably rich life. His parents were French immigrants who worked in New Bedford textile mills. He attended college during the Depression but dropped out to help support his family, eventually dividing most of his professional life between military service and the fabric industry. He and his wife, Florence–married 69 years before she passed away in 2005–raised three children, all now in their 60s. He also has 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Heavily involved with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America when his sons were growing up, Gentilhomme sang with a glee club and enjoyed watching Red Sox games with his beloved Florence by his side.
Upon retiring in 1974, Gentilhomme moved to a mobile-home park in Dunedin, Fla., where he still spends seven months a year. In 1975 he impulsively signed up for tennis lessons, a sport he’d never played in his youth.
“When they retire, most people don’t have the slightest idea of what to do with themselves,” he said. Why tennis? “Because it absorbs me, so to speak,” he replied, noting that Florence, though not a tennis player, won her share of bowling and shuffleboard medals, too.
His daughter was the one urging him to enter the 1995 National Senior Olympic Games in San Antonio. Now he’s a multisport national champ was a wall full of medals in his kitchen.
This summer’s Senior Games will draw nearly 10,000 competitors in 25 sports. Sixty-two are between 90 and 105 years old, according to Senior Games marketing director Helen Mendel, including 15 bowlers, 13 swimmers, and 18 track and field athletes. A medical team will be at each venue, Mendel said, but precompetition physicals are not required.
Gentilhomme plans to have the time of his life. “I thank the Lord every day, because this is not usual,” he said humbly. He also hopes to meet the Netherlands’ 81-year-old monarch, Queen Beatrix, at the World Senior Games in September.
Hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he?
By Joseph P. Kahn, Boston Globe, June 5, 2009
FALMOUTH–One day after turning 100, Roger Gentilhomme did what he does almost every morning while he’s on Cape Cod for the season. He joined a group of friends for two hours of tennis doubles at a local condominium complex.
Gentilhomme more than held his own, too, flicking cross-court volleys past his opponents’ reach, slicing backhand drop shots, swatting serves with authority–all with a megawatt smile on his face that never seems to dim.
At 5 feet tall he may not look big, but he plays that way.
To call it old man’s tennis would do a disservice to Gentilhomme and his playing partners. Age is relative, after all. And at his age, Gentilhomme continues to amaze anyone who steps onto the court with him. “I’m off all medication now,” he boasted during a court change. “I’m starting a new century as a newborn kid.”
Gentilhomme (he pronounces it GEN-til-home) is not only a model of how to age gracefully, but he might be the most decorated Massachusetts athlete you’ve never heard of. In August he’ll enter the 2009 National Senior Games in San Francisco, one of six registrants vying for a gold medal in tennis (singles) in the 90-and-over age bracket. Over the past 15 years, he’s collected more than 40 gold medals, and nearly 50 overall, in various state, regional, and national tournaments competing in three sports: tennis, bowling, and shuffleboard.
Named “Male Athlete of the Year” at the 2007 Florida Senior Games, Gentilhomme took home a pair of golds at the National Senior Olympics in Kentucky that year, followed by two more (in tennis and bowling) at the 2008 Massachusetts Senior Games in Boston. In September he’ll travel to the Netherlands for the World Senior Games, where he’ll bid to become the Bay State’s super-senior version of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
“The big question everyone asks is, ‘What do you attribute this to?'” Gentilhomme said during a conversation at his home in Falmouth before driving himself to tennis. “Well, I can’t attribute it to anything. I haven’t the slightest idea why I’m here. But–and here’s what I tell everyone–I do watch out for myself. If something starts irritating me, I try to find out what it is and get it fixed.”
There have been a few things in need of fixing over the years, Gentilhomme admits, including being treated for esophageal cancer in 1987. He’s undergone two hernia operations and took a nasty fall on a tennis court 15 years ago, sustaining a concussion that kept him out of action for a year.
His hearing has deteriorated badly in recent years, and he’s been battling to keep his weight above 115 pounds, 25 fewer than he used to weigh. But his blood pressure is normal–his doctor recently took him off hypertension medication–and he would eat more ice cream to pack on the pounds, he said, but he’s become lactose intolerant.
His daily regimen would be the envy of most men 30 years his junior. Rising around 7 a.m., Gentilhomme typically plays his two hours of tennis in the morning, then takes a brief post-lunch nap before heading to the fitness club for aerobic work and weightlifting. Weekly square-dancing and bowling sessions, piano and card playing, gardening, bike riding, and reading–all help keep his mind and body engaged. After watching the 11 p.m. news, he’ll catch up on e-mail before turning in. Born during the Marconi era, Gentilhomme is now a Google guy.
Gentilhomme’s born-again athletic career is the latest chapter in what has been a remarkably rich life. His parents were French immigrants who worked in New Bedford textile mills. He attended college during the Depression but dropped out to help support his family, eventually dividing most of his professional life between military service and the fabric industry. He and his wife, Florence–married 69 years before she passed away in 2005–raised three children, all now in their 60s. He also has 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Heavily involved with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America when his sons were growing up, Gentilhomme sang with a glee club and enjoyed watching Red Sox games with his beloved Florence by his side.
Upon retiring in 1974, Gentilhomme moved to a mobile-home park in Dunedin, Fla., where he still spends seven months a year. In 1975 he impulsively signed up for tennis lessons, a sport he’d never played in his youth.
“When they retire, most people don’t have the slightest idea of what to do with themselves,” he said. Why tennis? “Because it absorbs me, so to speak,” he replied, noting that Florence, though not a tennis player, won her share of bowling and shuffleboard medals, too.
His daughter was the one urging him to enter the 1995 National Senior Olympic Games in San Antonio. Now he’s a multisport national champ was a wall full of medals in his kitchen.
This summer’s Senior Games will draw nearly 10,000 competitors in 25 sports. Sixty-two are between 90 and 105 years old, according to Senior Games marketing director Helen Mendel, including 15 bowlers, 13 swimmers, and 18 track and field athletes. A medical team will be at each venue, Mendel said, but precompetition physicals are not required.
Gentilhomme plans to have the time of his life. “I thank the Lord every day, because this is not usual,” he said humbly. He also hopes to meet the Netherlands’ 81-year-old monarch, Queen Beatrix, at the World Senior Games in September.
Hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he?

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