(Editor’s Note: Part 3 of “My Life as a Sports-Nut” continues Gerry Fry’s story of the role of sports in his life, 2000-2020.)
In 2000 I made the toughest, most important, and best decision of my life to move from Oregon to the University of Minnesota to begin a new life in the Upper Midwest. There were several important sports implications of this life-transforming change. This saw the end of bicycle commuting. The Twin Cities, unlike Eugene, Oregon, is not bicycle friendly. But in Minnesota I discovered and took on four new important sports activities, racquetball, cross-training, participation in two World Senior Games, and forest bathing.
Prior to coming to Minnesota, I had no interest whatsoever in racquetball which squash players tend to look down on as an easy USA version of the more challenging pristine squash. It is now my second favorite sport to play after basketball. And it is great for your reflexes. And you don’t have to be great as in squash to have long rallies. For about five years I had a wonderful racquetball partner, a lady from the Hui Chinese minority group. Off the court she was so soft and feminine, but on the court she was a vicious competitor fighting for every point. We played regularly once a week for about five years. We would play three games right-handed and one left-handed to improve our ambidexterity. My winning percentage was probably about .10, but we had really fun competitive games.
Although I became aware of cross-training while working for Nike (“Bo Knows Campaign”), I did not really practice it until coming to Minnesota. Now sometimes in a workout, I may do ten different types of exercise, including running backwards and baseball. Since my brain surgery in 2013, I have climbed thousands of flights of steps backwards. My son wants me to stop this activity, fearing that I might fall.
While at Minnesota I have had two international sabbaticals, both of which had important sports elements. In 2006-2007, I was invited to be a visiting scholar at Nagoya University in central Japan, a long-term dream finally fulfilled. Right away, I got a bicycle which I used all the time, and it saved me a lot of money. Subway tickets there are rather expensive. Japan is super bicycle friendly. But most fortunately, there was a gym right near my office. Playing basketball at lunch time was the norm, unless I had an important luncheon meeting. I ended up primarily playing with the outstanding point guard of the Nagoya University women’s team, Keiko Sekido, who reminded me of our star East High point guard James Jenkins.
Keiko was really small, but great at distributing the ball and really quick. We had so much fun playing basketball together regularly (Left, baseketball friendship, photo by Keiko Sekido). As you can see, I am not a great fan of ageism.
I had not realized that tennis was popular in Japan. I was soon invited to two tennis groups, one that played Thursday nights (three hours) and another Saturday and Sunday mornings (four hours each morning). So I was able to revive my tennis game and met so many interesting people being part of these tennis groups. A few years ago I returned to Japan for a one week lecture tour. I arrived Friday night and they had a tennis racket waiting for me. So Saturday and Sunday mornings before my lecture week, I played tennis again with my wonderful Japanese colleagues. That was a great way also to address jet lag.
In 2004, I enjoyed watching on TV the Olympics in Athens and saw Ting Li win the gold medal diving from a 10-meter platform. Never did I imagine that 11 years later she would be my squash partner at the University of Minnesota for about six months and that in December,2019, just before the pandemic that I would be invited to speak in Greece, first time ever to travel to Athens.
Left: Ting Li and I after a squash match, photo courtesy of Dr. Barbara Stone, March, 2015
My second UM sabbatical was at the university where my wife did her undergraduate studies, a green oasis in the center of Bangkok, Chulalongkorn University. During my stay there I lived in a co-ed dorm, located close to many great athletic facilities, and there was an outside basketball court right at the bottom of my office building. I mainly played basketball and tennis, but with my office on the 7th floor and my dorm room on the 24th floor I did a huge amount of stair climbing. The campus is quite large and there is a free commuting bus system. I never once used a bus but instead walked in the tropical heat. Being in the extreme heat and cold, according to the Harvard Medical School, is healthy and perhaps that is why Hawai’i and Minnesota residents have the best longevity in the USA. I loved the hot baths (onsen) in Japan and in normal times, do sauna almost every day here in Minnesota. Sauna is extremely good for our health.
While at Oregon and Minnesota, I have led about 20 study tours to Southeast Asia. Going back to my Stanford-in-Germany experiences, I always arrange games between my students and me with a local university. At right is a photo after a game we lost to Khon Kaen University in Northeast Thailand. With the last group I took to Laos, we had a friendly with the women’s team of Supannavong University (Luang Prabang), and we were totally creamed even though we were co-ed and much bigger. But, like in Germany, great food and drink flowed after the games.
In 2012, I decided to compete in the World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. I competed in both the 2012 and 2017 games. In both competitions I choked badly and my performance was far below what I can accomplish in practice. My son is my coach. In the last games I came really close to getting a bronze medal in basketball. My son wants me to compete again in 2022, and I am now training for that. He is confident that this time I will bring home some hardware. Wish me luck. I will train hard. My shooting is now the best it’s ever been. It’s amazing the people you meet there, active older people from all over the planet. Last time I competed, there were over 10,000 athletes gathered in beautiful St. George, Utah. A great part of the games is that you get a free two-hour really super thorough fitness test with a computer printout of your true metabolic age, to compare with your chronological and subjective ages. My metabolic age in 2017 was 60. So when I retire from the UM formally in May, 2025, I should be around 68 metabolically. One of my major new lines of research is strategies for reverse aging.
The final aspect of my Minnesota sports life has been forest bathing (shinrui yoku), which I discovered because of the pandemic. Dr. Qing Li, a medical doctor in Tokyo, has written a wonderful book about the many health benefits of forest bathing. (See also The Living Mountain by Nan Shephard, another related great read). Villa Park, close to my home in Roseville, MN, where I do my forest bathing, is home to diverse wildlife – over 100 deer, wild turkeys, beautiful herons – but unlike Thailand, fortunately, no super poisonous snakes or tigers. (Left, forest bathing, Minnesota, Fall 2020) I have a wonderful deer girl friend named “Kulab” who really likes me and wags her tail when I speak to her softly and sweetly. We have shared lunch together. She loves chicken wings, a bit tastier than her vegetarian diet.
Also while forest bathing, I have cultivated my social wealth, and found a great tennis partner. Usually during a forest bath, I walk 5,000 to 15,000 steps and do meditation and Tibetan longevity exercises. Researchers at the U of Wisconsin have shown that meditation is really good for our brains. In the middle of Villa Park, there is a “Walden’s Pond,” which brings back fond memories of one of my favorite movies, “On Golden Pond” (1981). Just before the pandemic I heard Jane Fonda speak live for the first time. She seems so fit and healthy, and I would guess that she follows many of the principles articulated in this story.