Updated: Nov 11, 2018
Wearing all the years they have appeared in the World Masters Games on their sleeves, it was not hard to spot this pair in the crowded Auckland Badminton Centre. With movement around the court belying their true age, they are joyously defying the years. At a time when it - at last - is becoming the norm to simply push through the boundaries of aging, Bob and Andy must surely epitomise that spirit. They are both 73 years old, although Andy proudly proclaims himself the older, by a few months! They have had a lifelong relationship which started in college when they were adversaries & although Bob apparently taught Andy to play, Andy eventually got the better of his early coach.
The thing that struck me most about this doubles pair? How genuinely nice they are. Nice is often regarded as a bit of a non-descriptive word, but here it is so apt. They are all-round nice guys; quick to smile, slow to judge; comfortable with who they are & what they do; inclusive in a way that only experienced people with a real interest in other human beings can be. They have both spent lifetimes connected to sport. Bob, amongst other things, is the former CEO of Badminton Pan American Confederation (BPAC) & has started & run various competitions & Andy is the owner of Asby Sports in San Jose (since 1982). Although Andy declares himself 'semi-retired', I think that just means he is picking & choosing when to be involved on a day-to-day basis & when to travel & play badminton. I think he will take the 'semi' part with him to the grave. Probably not in the best taste talking about the grave with two 73-year-olds, but they are apparently comforted by the fact that whoever goes first, the other will take their ashes with them to the next World Masters - now that's commitment!
It is quite a record for them to compete - successfully, they have won numerous medals - in all the Games so far; it is quite another for them to have competed together. Andy has had both hips and a knee replaced & still races around the court. As Bob tells it, he insists that Andy has a surgery just after each games, so he then has 3 years to recover before competing in the next one! Easy for him to say, he hasn't had to replace anything. The competition has started well for them, with their team overcoming their closest rivals in the opening game. When I interviewed them, Andy was full of joie de vie because they had just managed to overcome the pairing that included Richard Purser (New Zealand), a player that Andy rates as probably the best & one he has been trying to beat for over 3 decades. It is impossible not to feel his infectious spirit in the video.
This is their ninth World Masters Games, but it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Apparently in the last Games in Italy, badminton was only included as a sport at the last minute due to pressure from the players. Well, when did you last hear of a world-class Italian badminton player? It would be a shame to allow local sporting traditions dictate which sports participate, but I understand moves are now afoot to solidify the program. When such enthusiasm & skill are available, why would you not harness it? Bob & Andy are unique in the history of these Games, but they are not alone in their passion for sport. It is gratifying (being a badminton player in Auckland) to hear Bob declare that the scale & enthusiasm for badminton here is by far the best they've encountered. Badminton, indeed sport generally is a family, and it is fabulous that it is embracing the elders in its community properly & there could be no better exemplars for this than these two inspirational guys.
UPDATE (Tuesday 25th April): With their team, they won Gold! (Photos added to the gallery.) The medal tally continues & they are now playing in the individual events.
Auckland - April 2017
Interviewed at the Auckland Badminton Hall directly after their opening match