By ELSA K. SIMCIK
For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, December 15, 2008
• How he got serious: Slater said he played a little in college but got more competitive while working for Delta Air Lines as a computer programmer. He competed in Delta’s annual tournament and was even tournament director for several years. “I’ve been pretty serious for the last 30 to 40 years,” said Slater, who is now retired from Delta and works part-time as a math tutor and substitute teacher.
• A breakdown of his sport: Slater explained that the term “ping pong” is actually copyrighted by Parker Brothers so the correct term is table tennis. While here in the United States we’re more likely to see people casually hitting the ball back and forth in their basements, table tennis is a much bigger deal in places like China, where it’s considered to be the national sport.
• Defending his sport: Slater said that people often laugh when he says he plays table tennis competitively. “I like the fact that this sport is very misunderstood in the United States,” he said. But as he explained, when it’s played correctly, “there’s a lot of movement. You aren’t just standing there waiting for the ball; you’re moving to where the ball is; you’re swinging pretty hard. It’s just a question of intensity.”
• Competing: Slater plays in a league through the Atlanta Georgia Table Tennis Association at the Chastain Park gym. He’s also registered with USA Table Tennis, where he has a rating. “Basically, the higher the number, the better you are,” explained Slater, who said his rating of 1,500 puts him about in the middle of the 7,000 players across the country. “The top guy, I’d be lucky to get a point playing against,” he said. Slater attends a few tournaments a year, including some local Atlanta games, the Delta tournament and the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah.
• The physical benefits: “If I were playing all day long in a tournament, I’ll feel it in the legs. You’re gonna build up the leg muscles,” he said. Plus, it’s great cardio: “No doubt about it,” he said. “My heart rate is up. I’m sweating. It’s a workout, no question about it.”
• His workout week: Besides his weekly table tennis matches, Slater said he’s pretty faithful about walking in his neighborhood at least five times a week. He covers about a mile and holds eight-pound weights in each hand.
• Bringing people together: “I’m meeting all kinds of people from all kinds of countries,” Slater said of playing at Chastain Park every Tuesday. “It’s kind of an equalizer. It’s a sport you can play and not really worry about the language.”
• His next challenge: “My goal is to just improve,” said Slater. “Your rating can keep going up.” Plus, he said he likes to try and beat every young person (in the 18-to-25 age group) that he comes across.
• His favorite thing about it: Slater said, “I feel at age 65 I’m at the top of my game. That’s encouraging. I’m getting better with age.”