At 88 years young, there are two things to know about Louisa Vanderlinden. One, she’s enjoying life to the fullest. And, make no mistake about it, she’s still as competitive as ever.
That was clear by her big smile after playing mixed doubles. She lives in Carson City and started in the sport with the Carson City Table Tennis Club and now commutes to Gardnerville each week for Carson Valley Table Tennis Club seniors group play at the Douglas County Community and Senior Center.
“I’m always looking for an opportunity to find some new competitors and have some more fun,” said Vanderlinden, who’s looking forward to her 89th birthday in January. “It’s so much fun. This is a wonderful facility here. Seniors are so fortunate to have all of this available to them.”
Vanderlinden — known as “Lou” by her friends — took up tennis as a sport at age 35 and continued to play for nearly a half-century before she switched to table tennis.
“I played competitively from the very start until I was about 80 and then I switched to table tennis ... I’ve had two hips replaced,” she said. “But I enjoy table tennis so much more because it’s a faster game. I think this is the greatest sport for people to play throughout their lives.”
She previously enjoyed success in Northern California Tennis Association age group play, including nine singles rankings in the 50- and 55-year old age group divisions between 1978 and 87. At one point, she was ranked No. 3 in women’s 50 singles for Northern California.
“I’ve played competitively all my life and enjoyed it so much,” Vanderlinden said. “I’ve met a lot of people. It was an adventure.”
Was an adventure? Just watch how quick her hands and reflexes are and you can see why she has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“Heavens no,” she replied immediately. “As long as I can do it, I’m doing it. I think when you stop, you’ve given up. I mean, this enriches my life, enriches my ability to meet people. I just love people and I love athletics.”
In 1994, she won a gold medal in doubles at what’s now known as the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. That achievement enabled her to travel to San Antonio, which represented her longest trip for competition. Vanderlinden’s one regret was her husband of 44 years, Chuck, passed away before she won that gold medal.
“He always enjoyed going to the tournaments and watching me play,” she said.
Vanderlinden credits her passion for tennis and now table tennis — not to mention her quick hands and reflexes — to the days of her youth growing up in San Francisco.
“I used to play out in the streets as a kid ... my mother and father would look out the window and watch me,” she said. “That was always fun. The boys at first made fun of me because I wasn’t playing with the girls, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to show you.’ And I did.”
Later, her interest in sports took a backseat while she worked to graduate from San Jose State University with a general business degree.
“I was busy studying in college,” she said. “I didn’t have time for it in college.”
Now a mother of three (one son has passed away) with two grandchildren and one great-grandson, Vanderlinden has only positive thoughts when looking back on her life. Give credit to all those tennis matches — and now table tennis.
“I consider myself very fortunate,” she said. “What a great life I’ve lived. I’ve been well, I’ve been active and I’ve done what I wanted.”
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