OCEANSIDE — Si Wasserman is 95. He does not look it or act it. He is limber and nimble with clear eyes and a steady hand. He holds numerous impressive table tennis titles and married for the first time a year ago. How does he do it? Wasserman credits his good health and longevity to the brisk games of table tennis he plays at the El Corazon Senior Center in Oceanside.
Of course, he has much more history with the game than the three times a week he plays at the senior center. It goes way back to Detroit in the 1940s when at age 12 he went down to the recreation center and played. It was just for fun. At age 15 a friend asked him to play and this time he started taking the game seriously.
A few years later, Wassernman joined the military. He found that every base had a day room and most had table tennis tables, so he played frequently. Still, it was just for fun.
After World War II in 1949 he got serious playing in tournaments. He played out of the YMCA in Los Angeles and the California Table Tennis Center in Hollywood. In 1952, he took possession of the center when the owner, who could rarely make a profit, told him he could have it, if he paid $350 a month rent.
“That was a lot then,” he said.
He worked 16 hours a day, first at his job as assistant to the manager of the Ranch Park Golf Course in Los Angeles and then at the center, but the center was never about money. It was about the game.
He took a great deal of pleasure coaching junior players and many of the top players of that era came from Wasserman’s center.
“Two of my girls went on to win national championships,” he said.
He continued that hectic schedule into the 1970s.
And then he lost his heart for the game and his business because of a rouge player who did everything to make his life miserable. The player, he said, had lied about his age to win a tournament and Wasserman forced him to returns his trophy. His life was never the same due to break-ins and other constant malicious mischief by the player, which police could never prove.
“I quit playing for 30 years,” he said. “I was still playing golf, which was my first love.”
In the early 1990s a friend asked him to play at the Country Club Senior Center in Oceanside and then when El Corazon opened he began playing there.
He plays about three times a week against people in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
“I can beat some of them,” Wasserman said.
One day out of the blue, Wasserman, who had never been married, fell in love with fellow table tennis player Patty Martinez, 30 years his junior. Better yet, the young widow fell in love with him too.
They had known each other only by reputation, each were champs in their own right, but they had never met. When they finally did, things started to happen.
“We talked for a while and when we were done, we hugged,” she said. “It was magical.”
They were married about a year ago in a table tennis-themed wedding, outside on the patio of the senior center.
Both are table tennis legends. In fact, Martinez at one time had her own line of tennis tables and several other endorsements.
But both, very modest, play down their skills.
Wasserman is in both the California and USA Hall of Fame. In 2015 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest award in table tennis. Beside numerous titles, medals and trophies over the years, in 2014 he won the grand slam of table tennis, which was the US Open championship, the National Championships and the North American Senior Championship — all in his age group of 85 to 90.
“At that age and being able to play like that, he is amazing,” said fellow player Breez Deguzman, 59, of Vista.
Armen Ordyan, 67, agrees.
“He is a very kind person and he is very wise and doesn’t mind helping people.”
Martinez, too, is a champ.
At age 13 she won the US Open Women’s Single title and then went on to be the youngest player, male or female, to win the title at 13. The record still stands. Among other accomplishments over the years, she has won three US Opens and was on the US World team 10 different times.
Last year in Spain she won a silver medal in the World Veterans Championships. Over the course of her career she has taken home four gold medals, four silver and one bronze
“We are a subculture, we really are,” Martinez said.
But table tennis players don’t get much attention in the U.S.
In Sarajevo the players are like rock stars with headlines in tabloids and big bucks for players.
“They are millionaires,” she said.
But to them, love is better than money.
They are content after dinner to spend evenings watching table tennis matches on YouTube. It’s fun for them because they know everyone who is playing.