Fit Together, Fit Forever

By Amy Lindblom June 15, 2008 08:00

Staying in top physical condition is as simple as playing with a three-and-a-half-ounce ball and doing the downward dog.

That’s according to one Tuolumne County couple who plays ping-pong and practices yoga and, because of it, embodies fitness and health.

Mike Sturtevant claims ping-pong is one of the best activities to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

“Ping-pong is great for the mind and the body. It’s puzzle solving with a physical component,” Mike says.

“Plus it’s good for your legs and good for your butt.”

Mike, 63, and Dorothy, 60, are lifelong athletes. She confesses to playing lots of sports as a kid: softball, tetherball, trampoline, and tennis. Dorothy was Modesto High’s Athlete of the Year, three times City of Modesto ping-pong champion, and won the women’s division of the Merced Marathon.

Mike grew up on a farm near Hughson where being outdoors and active morning till night was just part of his makeup. During his lifetime he has been a wrestler, high jumper, tennis player and occasionally a basketball dunker, if not a player.

When Mike and Dorothy met almost 17 years ago, they were both on the rebound from former marriages and admit they were each looking for someone athletic and fun. Their first date was at a University of the Pacific volleyball game because, back then, Mike was a

die-hard volleyball player. He made his living as a radio producer, but sports and fitness have always been his passions.

Mike switched to ping-pong — or table tennis, as competitive players call it — because he got tired of the sprained ankles and knee injuries volleyball brought him.

He also claims table tennis gives him a good cardio workout.

“In testing of Olympic athletes in Colorado Springs, table tennis players placed first in reflexes and second in cardiovascular fitness,” he notes.

As a competitive player, he sometimes plays six or seven matches a day against opponents of all ages. He has played against ex-Olympians, current national champions and upstart youngsters.

Ping-pong might also be good for your love life. Many of Mike and Dorothy’s happiest moments while dating were playing ping-pong while listening to musicals.

“West Side Story is the best,” Dorothy says, as Mike chimes in with his rendition of “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way.”

When it came time to build their dream home in Sonora, the Sturtevants directed the architect to include a combination yoga/dance/ping-pong room in the design. While by some standards such a room seems extravagant, for the Sturtevants it is perfectly in tune with their active and fun lifestyle.

The mirrored end of the room is where they practice yoga and dancing. At the other end is the ping-pong table, complete with a robotic ball machine.

Before a big match, Mike will hone his skills for up to five hours a day against the robot.

While Dorothy loves ping-pong, as well as dancing, hiking, and swimming, she has chosen yoga as a physically powerful outlet for her athleticism. Through yoga, she has become stronger and more limber than she was 10 years ago when she was still working as a high school dance teacher in Modesto.  She carries her body with the grace of a former dancer and current yoga master.

Dorothy now teaches yoga at Columbia College. This fall in her Sonora home, she will teach prospective yoga instructors how to teach yoga.

“All other sports, including dancing which is very athletic, are competitive,” she says. “But yoga is not about competition. One can be totally immersed in what they are doing without feeling judged.”

Dorothy taught Mike to love yoga, and it has helped him be a better ping-pong player.

“She is always telling me to telescope the spine when we are out walking,” he says.

For Mike, it’s ping-pong first, then yoga. For Dorothy, yoga comes first, then ping-pong.

Mike’s mother, Margaret Sturtevant, 88, who still lives in Hughson, recently took up yoga from Dorothy’s gentle nudge in that direction.

Just being active and passionate about a healthy lifestyle makes Mike and Dorothy Sturtevant eager each day for the morning sun and a busy day ahead.

Says Dorothy: “I don’t care how long I live, as long as I’m healthy.”

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Amy Lindblom June 15, 2008 08:00
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