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90-year-old couple staying in the game

Before Anna Neborak putts Thursday at Ace Golf in Brandon, she and her husband, Andy, discuss which way the ball will travel. The Neboraks, both 90, are competing for the 27th time in the Tampa Bay Senior Games, now in its 28th year.

LARA CERRI | Times

Before Anna Neborak putts Thursday at Ace Golf in Brandon, she and her husband, Andy, discuss which way the ball will travel. The Neboraks, both 90, are competing for the 27th time in the Tampa Bay Senior Games, now in its 28th year.

BRANDON

Andy Neborak plants his feet and peers down the green. He adjusts his grip, squints a little and whacks the purple golf ball solidly.

His wife, Anna, squeals as it glides past a small palm tree, a rock pile and a blue-bottom lagoon, home to a giant plaster shark. It's coming closer … it's at the hole … then, "Oh, Andy," she says as it skims the rim and zooms in another direction. "It's okay, hon."

Andy and Anna Neborak of Tampa, both 90 years old, are competing for the 27th time in the 28th annual Tampa Bay Senior Games, a county event for those over age 50 that features dozens of activities, including track and field, ballroom dancing, dominoes and Thursday morning's miniature golf. It runs through Oct. 17.

The Neboraks said the activity is part of what keeps them young.

"We've got our aches and pains. So what?" Andy said. "I'm just happy I'm still around."

When the two met about 40 years ago, still being around meant being left behind. Andy's wife, Helen, died of poor health at 46. A heart attack took Anna's Joe at 47. Suddenly, free time, and the loneliness that sneaks in behind it, was frightening.

And so, like in other love stories, there was a ball, a dress, a dance.

Ten years after Anna and Andy became widow and widower, they attended a singles mixer. Andy said the women outnumbered the men 10 to 1. He joked that he had his pick of the ladies. "I made a good choice."

Anna said it was she who eyed him. "I saw him coming across the room, and I said, 'Look at that nice man,' " Anna said. "We've been dancing ever since."

Thursday it'll be to Brooks and Dunn's Neon Moon, for the Senior Games ballroom portion.

Asking Anna about Andy's proposal sends her into a fit of giggles. "He just said, 'Let's get married.' Just like that. We were watching TV!"

It was 1971 in Philadelphia, where they both grew up. Andy, a World War II veteran, worked for the post office, and Anna was a secretary. A few years later, they retired to Florida. Andy's pension after 32 years with the government means they're comfortable — something they don't take lightly after growing up in the Great Depression.

"I feel sorry for this generation. They're all used to all their goodies," Andy said. "We knew the value of a dollar."

As they snaked around the Ace Golf putt-putt course in Brandon, passing a water bottle back and forth and cheering each other on, the Neboraks said marriage is about understanding the rules and having fun.

"We don't fight. We fight nice if we do. We say what we think and then forget it. It's over," Anna said. And Andy said Anna makes it easy. "She's a good cook."

But there are rough patches. Nine decades bring many goodbyes. Andy and Anna each lost a grown son to cancer a few years ago, and fewer of their former teammates show up to each year's Senior Games.

"When you're ready to go, you go," Anna said. "We're not ready."

Andy and Anna each have another son from their previous marriages, and collectively nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. They take weekly dancing lessons and don't watch much television. When they grocery shop, they buy mostly fruits and vegetables, and Andy carries the bags to the car — a gentleman, Anna says.

They go over to another hole. This time, there's an upward slant to the green faux grass and some hilly spots. But if the stroke's just right and the wind is merciful, it could mean a hole-in-one. Or two.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

90-year-old couple staying in the game 10/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 1:36pm]
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