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You never get the ‘chop’ at table tennis

Hugh McIlwrath, 87, and Audrey Hall, 88, plan to keep playing table tennis as long as they are able. PHOTO/LUCAS ABBOTT

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At an age when keeping fit and meeting new people can be a challenge, two 87-year-olds and an 88-year-old think they’ve found the key.

Hugh McIlwrath, Doug King and Audrey Hall play table tennis at Masterton’s Red Star Table Tennis Club every Tuesday from nine to noon and have been doing so for years.

When McIlwrath joined the club in 1993 he couldn’t even hit a ball, but the 87-year-old said that from the moment he stepped through the door he became fascinated by the game.

“They took me under their wing and the good players told me what I was doing wrong and they suffered because they got beaten in the end.”

Since then he’s gone on to win around 40 medals in tournaments right around the country, including six gold medals.

One of the keys to his success is his “chop” which adds underspin to the ball.

“The chop saved me in a lot of games, especially when you get quick players, the chop slows them down.

“You play the chop right under their faces and they can’t hack the distance, when they start to slam you know you’ve got them.”

Two years ago, an injury to McIlwrath’s shoulder slowed his formidable chop and left him unable to compete in tournament play. Since then, he’s taken to coaching the women in the club.

He is the club’s longest current member and plans to never retire from table tennis.

“I couldn’t have picked a better sport. Hopefully, I’ll die with the bat in my hand,” he said.

McIlwrath and fellow 87-year-old Doug King were made life members of the club last year.

Fellow table tennis addict Audrey Hall is 88. She said she often needed to rest one hand on the table to keep her balance.

She was introduced to the sport by her neighbours in January 2000 and quickly found her feet.

“It’s very social here, everyone is very friendly and very tolerant.

“There’s less room to cover than other sports like tennis, but it keeps me active and alert – it’s the only exercise that I enjoy.”

She enjoys the flow of the game, preferring to play a good rally and lose than to hit the winning shot.

Like McIlwrath, she plans to keep playing as long as she can.

Club president Brian Cashmoore said the club had seen strong growth, particularly in the past 12-18 months.

“Table tennis went out of fashion for a while, but now look at these 87-year-olds, they can’t get enough.

“It’s been word of mouth largely, everybody knows everybody, word got out and people are coming out of the woodwork.”

Red Star Table Tennis Club is located on Herbert Street.

The club meets on Monday nights from 6-8 pm, Thursday night from 5-7pm and Tuesday mornings from 9-noon.

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