ENJOYING TENNIS IN THEIR 90S
Ashley Marshall | March 6, 2019
At Mountain Shadows Community Center in Las Vegas, friends Alexander Kuechel and Janos Strauss are proof that tennis really is the sport for a lifetime.
Kuechel, 94, and Strauss, 90, play doubles five days a week, using tennis as a way to stay healthy and active in their retirement years.
The pair met in Nevada 25 years ago at a Holocaust survivors’ group. Kuechel, from Berlin, Germany, spent time at seven different concentration camps between 1942 and 1945, while Strauss, from Nyirtass, Hungary, was sent to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1944.
Both men fled post-war Europe in the years that followed Germany’s surrender, eventually settling in Las Vegas. Kuechel (pictured above, right) moved to New York in 1949, relocated to Los Angeles the following year and ended up in Nevada. Strauss immigrated to New York in 1951 and moved to Las Vegas in 1994.
After meeting at the survivors' group in the mid-1990s and becoming friends through their shared wartime experiences, Kuechel and Strauss became regular partners on the court.
Kuechel has played tennis for 68 years, while Strauss was introduced to the sport more recently.
“I‘ve been playing tennis since I was 65 years old,” Strauss said.
“The first time I picked it up was when I moved to Las Vegas to a retirement community, and one of the things they offered was tennis lessons. I joined and never stopped. I like the sport itself. I like the people around me, the friendships.”
Kuechel, who will celebrate his 95th birthday later this month, agreed, saying that even though he plays every weekday on one of the center’s outdoor hard courts, he still gets upset when the weather postpones their practice.
“It’s very unusual to find someone in my age in my physical condition and mental condition to play tennis,” Kuechel said. “It’s a wonderful sport, and you meet new people. Every day I look forward to playing tennis every morning. You feel good about yourself.”
Kuechel says he will keep playing as long as he physically can. And while he isn’t setting 100 as a goal, he thinks he would be one of the few people in the country to still be playing tennis at 100 years old.
“I am able to run, knock on wood, and I’m in good physical shape,” said Kuechel, who won a gold medal in doubles at the Nevada Senior Olympics. “I have no sickness, and I feel very good about myself. I’m mentally alert, and I’m slender; no belly at all. My doctor says I’m amazing. I don’t know anyone playing tennis who is 100. I don’t know anyone who is 95 [and playing tennis]. I must be one of the few in the United States.”
Kuechel, who has been married to his wife Liselotte Lilo for 63 years, moved to New York in 1949 and relocated to Los Angeles the following year. He found a job as a waiter at the Beverly Hills Hotel before running a liquor store and three Mexican restaurants. Later, Kuechel became a cosmetologist and a real estate broker, selling new homes in L.A. But sports have always been a big part of his life.
“I have been in sport all my life,” said Kuechel, who explained that a happy marriage, active lifestyle and healthy eating are the secrets to a long life. “In Berlin, I had to leave a Christian school and go to a private Jewish school, and 90 percent of the teachers were Zionist, and we were involved in sports and gymnastics. I’m self-taught playing tennis. I used to go skiing. I used to go swimming, play ping pong, all self-taught, because in Germany it was forbidden for Jewish people to learn sports or to go to swimming pools.
“[Playing sports] helped me survive [during the war] because I was so active. To survive was a matter of luck, luck, luck, but it did help me to be in good physical condition and mentally alert.”
Like Kuechel, Strauss immigrated to New York. He came to America on liberty ship General CC Ballou in June 1951, first getting a job as a tool maker in a factory which specialized in building a variety of machines mostly used in the textile industry and working his way up to the top, becoming the manager of the company.
Strauss, who bowled and played table tennis in his younger years and now also likes playing chess, says he doesn’t think he would be as healthy as he is today if he didn’t play tennis.
“It’s a great sport—the exercise and the game itself. It’s a great thing to do,” said Strauss, who married his second wife and fellow Holocaust survivor Celia Drillman in 1992, two years before moving to Las Vegas.
“There are quite a few other people like me that picked tennis up later in their retirement age. It’s a great sport for exercising and for keeping healthy. The competition is great. It’s great fun. Playing tennis is the healthiest thing you could do. I don’t think there’s anything healthier.”
Added Kuechel, who said people are always surprised when they learn he is still playing tennis: “Very, very much so. They always say they’d like to be like me when they get older.”