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West York man thrives in racquetball at age 85

Patrick Strohecker
505-5402/@P_Strohecker
  • Richard Cheney, 85, will compete in the Men of October racquetball tournament for the fourth time from Oct. 27-29.
  • The tournament is for players 80 and over and attracts players from all over the country.
  • Martin's Potato Chips is sponsoring Cheney and supplying him with $250 to help cover some of his expenses.

Richard Cheney has been playing racquetball for the last 35 years of his life.

Richard Cheney, 85, will be heading to Phoenix, Arizona next week to compete in the Men of October racquetball tournament for his fourth time. Thursday, October 13, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

For most people, who typically start a sport when they're a child or teenager, 35 years of doing anything would put them around their 40s or 50s. Cheney, however, is different. He didn't begin playing racquetball until he was 50 years old, which makes him a spry 85-year-old man still plugging along at a game that requires more than just a little athleticism and energy.

When Cheney plays at his home club, the Athletic Club of York, he regularly plays against men 10 to 15 years younger than him. He still wins frequently against those younger competitors. About four years ago, however, he said to one of his friends that he needed to start playing against men his own age.

That's when Cheney found out about the Men of October racquetball tournament in Phoenix, Arizona. The Men of October is an annual tournament that brings some of the best players from around the nation to play against each other. There's a catch, however. In order to play, you must be at least 80 years old.

"I always complained that I'm playing everybody that's 10, 15 years or more younger than I am," Cheney said. "So (my friend) told me that there was a tournament out in Phoenix for plus-80 year olds and I signed up for one."

That was four years ago, when Cheney was 81. He's played every year since.

He'll leave next Friday, Oct. 21, for the 2016 edition of the tournament, where he'll compete in the 84-86-year-old division, the middle age group. There are three different age groups in the tournament: 80-83, 84-86 and 87-and-older.

While Cheney, who's from West York, means business come tournament time, he also uses the trip out to Phoenix as a chance to take a vacation with his wife. They'll arrive next Friday and spend about five or six days taking in the area. Once Thursday hits, that's when the tournament begins. It'll run from Oct. 27-29, with the championship rounds taking place that Saturday.

Martin's sponsorship: The first three years that Cheney competed in the Men of October tournament, all of his expenses were out of his own pocket.

David Potter, vice president of sales of Martin's Potato Chips, presents Richard Cheney, 85, with a sponsorship check Thursday, October 13, 2016. Martin's gave Cheney a $250 check to help him pay for some of his expenses when he travels to Phoenix, Arizona next week to compete in the Men of October racquetball tournament. John A. Pavoncello photo

Between flights, hotels, entrance fees, food and any other miscellaneous expenses, he quickly was racking up a bill that neared $1,000 and possibly even more.

So, this year, for the first time, Martin's Potato Chips out of Thomasville is sponsoring Cheney as he competes in the tournament. While, they won't foot his entire bill, Martin's vice president of sales and co-owner David Potter and chief financial officer Steve Fitz were at the Athletic Club on Thursday to present Cheney with a check for $250 to help him with some of his funds. They also gave Cheney a polo shirt and hat with the Martin's logo on them.

"He's sort of what many of us in the (racquetball) league aspire to be — be able to live that long and be healthy enough to still be coming out and exercising," Fitz said. "...When I found out that he was going out for that, I asked him if he still ate our potato chips and he said, 'Sure,' and I said that maybe our company could get together, because we strongly believe in moderation in all things and exercise and portion control are important things about snacking, so I asked David and his brother Butch, who's the CEO, if they'd be willing to do a small sponsorship."

Potter said the number of times that Martin's has sponsored an athlete by giving them money, and not just free product, is few and far between, so Cheney is one of the fortunate ones.

Last year, Cheney finished third in the singles competition and in 2015 he finished third in singles and fourth in the doubles competition. This year, he hopes to win it all.

When asked how much longer he plans to play racquetball, Cheney's response was simple.

"As long as I'm healthy."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com.