She has been courting her passion for her whole life.
Lilian Peltz-Petow’s life doesn’t slow down.
Not for age, not for injuries, and certainly not for anyone else.
Sarasota’s Peltz-Petow, 68, won the doubles portion of the 2019 International Tennis Federation Super-Seniors World Team Championships — held in Umag, Croatia from Sept. 21-28 — for the U.S. 65+ women's team, alongside partner Jan Kirkland-Cochran. The doubles win counted as one-third of Team USA’s 3-0 (best of three) victory over Germany in the finals, the other two-thirds coming from singles wins by Wendy McColskey and Tina Karwasky.
This was Peltz-Petow’s ninth time representing Team USA in an international event, the first since 2004. An injured knee slowed her down, but a knee replacement in 2016 helped her get her groove back, after 18 months of working back to 100%.
Talking to her, you would never know she was formerly hobbled. Peltz-Petow does everything with the energy of a gazelle. When describing how the 85+ division players in Croatia would go after balls, she gets up and acts out the scene, sprinting through her kitchen. She tells stories with the fervor of a twister. After the interview, she said, she was going on a bike ride with her partner, Ashley Sherman. (The two also played a mixed doubles tournament together in Croatia.) People stumble in and out of her house without knocking, like it’s a sitcom apartment. Appropriate, because a TV show would be lucky to have a character like Peltz-Petow.
She started her athletic career by playing table tennis in Manchester, N.H. Her family got a table when she was 6. She and her brothers, Michel and Claude, would play three to five hours a night. Claude became a table tennis state champion and appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section. But “Lil,” as everyone calls her, was darn good at the real tennis, taking it up at 15 and becoming a state champion at 22.
“I started playing tennis to meet men,” Peltz-Petow said, laughing. “But I had that hand-eye coordination. I could serve and volley. I played ‘chip, charge and run in.’ ”
Developing her backhand helped Peltz-Petow make her first USA team in 1998. It was passion that led her to get that far, and it is passion that keeps her playing now: for tennis, yes, but also for life. Her most-recent international experience was no different. She would wake up in Croatia and grab fresh figs off trees for snacks, she said. Her time there nourished her soul. She cares about that much more than her gold medal.
“There are great athletes and great human beings there,” Peltz-Petow said. “People are defying age. They are living, swearing and dying [on the court]. They are having fun.
“You know what the best part is? Going to dinner with your opponents after a match. You make connections. It makes the world feel more personal. You appreciate life more. You live with alacrity.”
Unsurprisingly, Peltz-Petow is focused on the future. She wants to reach the No. 1 in the U.S. in the USTA’s 70+ singles rankings in 2021. She believes it to be a realistic goal. She is third (and 33rd globally) in the 65+ division.
When does she plan on stopping? When she takes her dying breath, she said.