When we think of sport we tend to think of younger people at the peak of their physical fitness playing football, rugby or tennis, but sport can, and should be, a lifelong activity.
A shining example of the power of sport for all ages is chair of Sport NI George Lucas, from Hillsborough, who at the age of 75 has recently returned from Florida after competing for Ireland seniors in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Senior World Team Championships.
Every year the ITF stages world veteran championships for tennis players with categories ranging from the over 30+ right up to the 90+ to help retain and prolong interest in tennis as a sport for life.
Ireland had three teams competing at in the 70+, 75+, and 80+ groups, with George recording two wins in the 75+ age group against Argentina and Zimbabwe.
George said: “At Sport NI we believe in the power of sport to change lives and that everyone should have the opportunity to play a sport, regardless of their age or ability.
“Physical activity improves both our physical and mental health which are increasingly important as we age.
“I have been playing tennis since I was five years old.
“It helps me stay fit and healthy and I have made friends for life.
“While competing in Florida I had the pleasure to meet Leonid Stanislovski, 98 from Ukraine, who started playing tennis at the age of 90 and continues to compete in ITF competitions.
“As the world’s oldest competitive tennis player Leonid is an inspiration to us all.
“There are so many sports available and I would encourage everyone to keep playing their sport and not be afraid to try something new.
“Age should not be a barrier, if Leonid and I can do it so can you!”
George is married to Letty for 52 years – they met as teenagers through their love of sport on the local tennis and badminton circuit. The couple have three sons and seven grandkids.
As well as tennis, George played table tennis at a young age and badminton for Ulster under 21s. He took up squash aged 30.
These days, as well as being an avid tennis player he is a keen walker, doing his daily 10,000 steps in the local area that often involves walking around the grounds of Hillsborough castle.
George said he really enjoys the social side of tennis.
“I’ve been a member of Downshire Tennis Club most of my life and have life-long friends thanks to playing tennis whom I socialise with off the court. My wife Letty is the current president of the Downshire Tennis Club.
“Through the tennis competitions I’ve made new friends across Ulster, Ireland and further afield. I’ve played in 16 World Cups, and I’ve become friends with people from Australia, America, Germany, France and Spain. During the competitions we meet up two or three nights during that week and it often ends up in a singsong and a bit of party around the table, so all great craic.”
Sport NI said it is committed to tackling the preconception that sport is solely for younger people and maximising opportunities for people of all ages to get out there and take part. It added many sports are now adapting to allow more people to enjoy them, slowing down the pace and cutting down on physical contact.”
Age NI, the leading charity in Northern Ireland dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life, also recognises the importance of sport and physical activity.
Vicki Caddy, Age NI said: “At Age NI, we are committed to supporting older people to live well for longer and we are in no doubt that regular physical activity is good for both mind and body.
“Even if you aren’t motivated by competitive sport, a daily walk and some gentle strength and balance exercises can work wonders to help us to keep getting the most out of life. It is never too late to get started, as proven by George and the wonderful Leonid!”
George said he enjoys the mental health benefits of keeping active.
“When I was very busy with my job, I worked very long hours but a couple of nights a week I would play tennis. It helps put everything else out of your mind. I forgot whatever issues were going on in my business or personal life as you can think of nothing else except where the next breath was coming from! You became deeply engrossed in the game, so it was and still is a great stress buster.
“And that’s been the same for many of the people I know through tennis. In recent years I know people who have been recovering from heart operations and cancer and they have really excelled when taking up tennis and enjoyed themselves. It’s given them a chance to forget about their illness and helps with their physical and mental recovery. It gives them a sense a purpose.
“It’s really all about friendship and fun.”
Sport NI’s new five-year plan, The Power of Sport, aims to maximise the power of sport to change lives by increasing and sustaining participation in sport and physical activity across Northern Ireland.