At 62-years-old, international jet-setting sports ambassador Arn Salas Diaz shows no sign of slowing down. With gold and silver medals hauled in at the Australian Masters Games early last month, the manåmko' tennis player keeps getting better with age.
From Oct. 5 to 8, in Adelaide, Australia, Diaz teamed with Scott Kittle and won the gold medal in Mixed Doubles 55+ Division.
In the Women’s 60+ Division, capturing the silver medal, Diaz paired with Ernestine Rengiil, the first Palauan woman to serve as the state’s attorney general.
Diaz and Kittle, before the tournament, had never played doubles together.
“I never played with him,” Diaz said. “I met him two days before.”
Before her first mixed doubles match, Diaz scouted the competition and watched balls fly faster than she had ever seen. For three months prior, she had trained with Rick Ninete but was still intimidated by the power.
“I was a little frightened to receive overheads,” said Diaz, who watched her soon-to-be opponents punish balls with increasing ferocity. “So, I just had to tell myself, ‘I trained for this, I do the similar kinds of shots, so I just need to be up for that kind of competition.’”
“In the game of tennis, if you show that you’re fearful, it can be a disadvantage,” she said.
As Diaz and Kittle worked through the nine-team draw, their chemistry grew and they quickly earned their opponents’ respect.
Still, Diaz was in awe.
“Most of the guys were Australians,” Diaz said. “Those guys are big servers and have beautiful strokes. They still have it, in my age category - 50s, 60s, 70s.”
Medals, miles, and friendship
For the past two years, playing tournaments in Penang, Malaysia, Tasmania, and Australia, Diaz has racked up frequent-flyer miles and medals. But, more important than cashing in rewards miles for free flight upgrades, and bling, she treasures most of all the friendships forged with her like-minded fitness fanatics. Through two years of playing on the international masters' tennis circuit, Diaz has made more than 12 new friends.
“I knew over a dozen tennis friends there,” she said. “The feeling was all positive - to have fun, to play as best as I can, all knowing that we are masters players with a similar initiative for health and fitness.
“I feel really good about being an ambassador for tennis.”
More than love, it's life
Diaz, in 1975, while enrolled at the University of Guam, was introduced to the sport by Joe Paulino. Forty-four years later, she still loves the game that quenches her competitive spirit and keeps her in shape. With an unnerving family history of diabetes, tennis keeps her alive.
“My family line has a lot of diabetes and high blood pressure,” Diaz said. “Almost every one of my cousins, from my mother’s side, has passed on from complications of diabetes.
"I’m 62, and I don’t have diabetes. My brother recently passed away from complications of diabetes. I can cite every oldest cousin - from every one of my mother’s brothers and sisters - have passed away from complications of diabetes.”
“It’s continuing to go to our children’s generation,” she said.
Diaz, who said that she will play until she’s “too old, and can’t do it anymore,” hopes to inspire other senior citizens to get off the couch and embrace an active lifestyle.
“We (Diaz and Ninete) don’t want anyone to sit back and play bingo,” she said. “We want to open up alternatives for our masters' citizens to do sports.
“It’s important that we stay as fit as we can be - if not through diet, doing an exercise. When you’re doing exercise, and you love it, and you love what it’s doing to your system - your mind, your thinking, your outlook - then, you want to do it more.”
Diaz said, those willing to try tennis can join the Tiger Bombs, her senior tennis group that play every Wednesday at the Rick Ninete Tennis Center, in Hagåtña.
“We use a lot of that medicated balm,” Diaz said. “Be on my team. We do it for fun, and we do it for fitness.”