SPRING HILL — It doesn't seem as though Jose Borges considers himself a senior citizen.
At 68, he clearly qualifies to be an AARP, Price-Is-Right-watching retiree, and this former construction worker from Massachusetts has played — and medaled — in three Senior Olympics for table tennis. But as of now, he's training overtime to qualify at the State Championships on Dec. 8 for the 2009 Senior Olympics in San Francisco.
"I never did anything like this before these games and when I knew I was going to move down here, I wanted to qualify for them. I wanted to play against competition," Borges said. "It's satisfying and this is the only way I can keep playing. I want the competition."
Borges, who started playing in 1958, has easily devoted a good portion of his life to the sport. Not only does he have 1,748 points from events he plays year around, he's been training nearly 10 hours a week so he can qualify in his age group for either singles, doubles or mixed doubles.
"I don't think he plays too much," said Albina Borges, his wife of 45 years. "He loves to play, but maybe he does too much when he plays for stretches and forgets to drink some water. That may be too much."
Borges practices about threes times a week, and he even has a robotic server that spits out pingpong balls at whatever rate he chooses. It's one of the reasons he got so good.
The other has been the 50 years of constant playing.
"For a senior, he's one of the best in his age class in Florida," said Ray Spann, communications officer for the Lakeland Table Tennis Association, the group that holds many events Borges plays in. "He's an excellent partner and those are hard to find. He can sit there and return the ball hundreds of times without missing. He can go for hours without missing a shot. It's just amazing to watch the guy."
Spann calls Borges "a consistent player" which "at 68 years old is phenomenal to do that," though what really stands out about Borges to Spann is that in two years, he'll be 70, moving him to the 70-74 age bracket.
And if Borges' skills don't — probably won't — diminish, look out.
"He's in such good shape for his age," Spann said. "He's going to dominate when he gets to that (70 and up) bracket. He just has a very consistent stroke, with his forehand and backhand. I would easily consider him one of the top players I know."
Spann realizes Borges has his work cut out. Thing is, Borges is 68, meaning he has to look out for the younger guns: the 65-year-olds, who are fresh to this division.
And the competition will be tough. There will be players there from all over the state.
"We're going to have over 100 players competition at the championships in his age bracket," Spann said. "It's not going to be a cakewalk. He's going to really have to have some extra game to finish in the medals.
"But he has no real weakness. Some players will have a downfall, but he really doesn't have one — a real sound player all the way around."
It's easy to say Borges is consistent. Actually, he confirms it by saying, "All the guys I started playing with (in 1958), they gave up — I still play," Borges said. That's all fine and dandy, but so many years later, there's got to be a reason behind all those sweaty hours in his garage, playing pingpong by himself, keeping score in his head.
And that reason is as simple as Borges' game.
"I love the game and I like the competition," Borges said. "When I came down here and start playing, I have a friend who says, 'Bah, you're playing old men. Those guys, they can't even move.' But they can, and I can and to prove to my friends — to anyone, that we old guys can still play."
Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.