John May might be 83 years old, but he admits he feels like he’s in his 50s these days.
One big reason is that he has played tennis for 70 years, which has helped keep the Southold resident young and limber.
“I’ve always felt age is not a number,” he said. “It’s a state of mind.”
May’s state of mind certainly was a positive one last Wednesday in New York City when he was honored by the Long Island Division of the Eastern Division of the United States Tennis Association as the outstanding player for men’s singles 80 and above.
“I play tennis to play tennis,” he said. “To get recognition like this, it’s a blessing.”
May was feted along with Eileen Walker of Cutchogue, who was given an award for female singles players 50 and above. Both received plaques at an awards ceremony.
“She’s a very, very fine player,” May said, adding that Walker has received other similar honors through the years.
May should know. He has partnered with Walker for the last 15 years, noting that she has been honored by the USTA on several occasions. “She’s a very, very fine player,” he said.
To keep their partnership fresh, May and Walker practice together once a week for two hours, no matter what the season.
“We do it to improve our shots in the winter and summer when there’s no ice on the court,” May said.
They learn from each other.
“We make up drills where we work on our weaknesses,” Walker said. “We make up the scores so we’re ready for a pressure situation.
“We’re good practice partners. He’s an inspiration to me. I can learn from his wisdom as well as his ability.”
Learning should not be a problem for the 55-year-old Walker, who is a sixth-grade social studies teacher in the William Floyd School District.
Walker said she received her award for her improvement at the annual USTA summer tournament in Forest Hills.
“It’s very humbling,” she said. “If you can win one more match each time you go, that’s a measure of your ability.”
Walker and May are a dynamic duo on the court, participating in the Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament’s mixed doubles competition every year while finishing second in 2010.
Last year May was ranked third in the eastern region in his age group and 20th in the country. But it’s more than the competition that has made the sport a passion to May.
“I enjoy the physical exercise,” he said. “I enjoy the beauty of tennis. I enjoy the competition and I enjoy the fact you can learn new things every time you play.”
May’s most recent win came in a competition in New Jersey last week when he won a three-set match and tie-breaker that lasted two and a half hours. “I won that not so much on skill but on stamina to last the three sets,” he said.
May said he owed “a lot of my ability to win” to his fitness trainer, Carmine Artaea of Peconic Landing, who prepares him for competition, and yoga exercise.
“They really help to stretch me and give me the ability to move,” he said.
May is married to Elinore. They have 11 children, 27 grandchildren and one great-grandson, with another great-grandchild due in September.
Not surprisingly, a few of his children have taken up the sport.
“It’s a lot of exercise,” May said. “You can play it quicker than a round of golf. Tennis is something that you can play all your life.”
And in the case of May and Walker, excel in it as well.