“I’ve played table tennis since school and I’m not stopping now”
Do you think table tennis is just for youth clubs or holidays? Then meet Jan Johns, 60, who has played competitively since she was at school.
What is it about table tennis that you love?
Everything really! I get so much joy out of it. There’s a real satisfaction from playing a shot well and feeling my bat whip up with the topspin, and I get a lot of pleasure from winning competitions and seeing my name in the top 20 or top 10 rankings – even number one when I was in my 40s. More than anything, though, I love the friendship and camaraderie that the sport offers.
Do you have friends who you see outside of the sport?
Yes. I met my second husband through playing table tennis! We’re both in the same league so sometimes we even have to play against each other, but we only do that when we can’t possibly avoid it. And one of my great friends is someone I’ve played against for 30 years – I’ve only beaten her once in all that time. I think if I moved to anywhere in the country, I would know somebody there who played table tennis.
Do you travel much with the sport?
All over the place! The Veteran English Table Tennis Society (VETTS) has seven tournaments a year that take you all over the country. And then, on alternate years, there are the European Veterans Championships and the World Veterans Championships. I’ve been to New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Germany – all sorts of places – and we always take a holiday when we’re there.
It doesn’t sound like age has reduced your opportunities to compete.
Not at all. VETTS splits tournaments into age brackets, so there’s 40–50, 50–60 and so on. It’s brilliant because just when you hit 48 or 49 and you’re starting to feel like everyone you play is that bit quicker and fitter than you, you move into the 50–60 group and you’re a cadet again. It gives you a whole new lease of life.
How often do you play?
I play once a week and I practice once a week, and since I retired two years ago from a career in IT, I’ve started coaching twice a week.
Who do you coach?
Predominantly I coach beginners. People who have taken up the sport in their 60s and want to play more. There are clubs all over the country, so it’s an easy sport to get into and you can learn the basics fairly quickly.
What health benefits do you think table tennis brings?
You only have to look at the women playing in the over-60s group to see that it keeps you fit – we’re a healthy bunch. It’s a fast sport, so it keeps you mentally alert as well as giving you a good cardio workout. There’s a film called Ping Pong that follows eight players at the World Veterans Championships and one 89-year-old woman in the film suggests that table tennis has helped her dementia. It’s not going to stop it happening, but I do believe it can help.
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