Retirement. For many people, it represents a time to relax and unwind. A time to hang up the cleats and pursue less demanding endeavors.
But for 82-year-old Leon Speroff, it’s about staying busy playing the game he loves.
Speroff, a retired Oregon Health & Science University professor and OB-GYN, told OPB's "Think Out Loud" host Dave Miller he was nervous driving to his first senior softball tryout. Speroff said he was 10 years older than most of the team and hadn’t swung a bat in nearly 40 years. Equipped with boundless enthusiasm and a proclivity for punctuality, he made the team.
Soon after joining the first team, he joined a second — and then a third. As a member of three teams across three different age divisions, Speroff says he plays more than 10 hours of softball a week.
“Playing senior softball is therapy,” he said. Beyond the physical benefits, Speroff enjoys the community that comes with being on a team. He says the game helps him stay mentally engaged.
“I’m not the best athlete on the team, by any means, but maybe the most emotional and the most dedicated,” he said. And it would be hard to dispute that description. In 2012, Speroff was diagnosed with lymphoma. Despite undergoing chemotherapy treatments, he didn’t miss a game.
“There’s an intense focus being in the game and that intensity liberates you from what’s going on in your life,” he said.
For Speroff, the spirit of competition came as a welcome distraction. The game provided “a sense of release” when he needed it most. He isn’t sure if softball saved his life, but said the support from his teammates certainly made it easier. He has been in remission for five years now.
Speroff and his "Oregon City Sports" teammates now have their sights set on the next challenge — defending their 2016 AA gold medal at the Huntsman World Senior Games.
Speroff enjoys winning as much as the next person, but his favorite part comes after the game when the two teams exchange high-fives.
“If you look carefully, every individual — winners and losers — have joy on their face. Because they’re all aware, in a sense, this is a great accomplishment,” he said. “We’re all grateful. Another triumph against aging.”
Speroff and his teammates are at the Huntsman Senior Games this week to compete and reunite as companions.
“We go there with the competition in mind but also the joyful anticipation of our comradery,” he said.
Speroff has written two memoirs about his time playing softball, one about his rookie year, and the other about his recovery from lymphoma.
To hear more from the "Think Out Loud" conversation with Leon Speroff, including a story about Speroff's playful trash-talking, click “listen” on the player at the top of the page.