The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Brian Ojanpa

October 17, 2008

Table tennis whiz, 85, has a wish

Dorothy Peterson of North Mankato may be the best 85-year-old female table tennis player in the nation — and she’s dying for an opponent to prove otherwise.

“I don’t have anyone to play anymore,” laments Peterson, who just returned from Utah with another gold medal.

She trounced the only other opponent in her age division — another 85-year-old woman — and worries that come next year her sole competition could be a no-show.

“She’s rather frail. I don’t know if she’ll make it.”

For the past few years, Peterson has competed in the Huntsman World Senior Games, a multi-sport international event for athletes 50 and older.

Of the 9,000-plus competitors in St. George, Utah, Peterson was virtually the oldest female participant.

But it’s lonely at the top because most people her age aren’t inclined to rigorous physical endeavors. And even if they are, opportunities are slim for that echelon of age-division competition.

So Peterson often practices by herself in her home, using the Robo-Pong machine she bought 15 years ago to spit balls at her.

“I got some backspin on my backhand. Maybe that’s my forte. But I need work on my forehand.”

Of course, a killer forehand might be moot if there’s no one her age to play with. Male or female, apparently.

That’s why she’d love to see a table tennis club started in Mankato, something similar to the one she enjoys during winter hiatuses in Harlingen, Texas, where she dwells each January to April.

She and late husband Ralph bought a place down there 15 years ago, and she revisited table tennis for the first time since she was a child.

“Table tennis is the best sport there is for seniors,” she said, citing her idol of sorts, a 96-year-old Australian woman she read about who can still stroke it.

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