87-year-old Lisa Modlich talks Ping Pong and going for gold

'Stay Happy!' - the mantra of one of the most jovial 87-year-olds I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Lisa Modlich is one of the unassuming stars of documentary movie Ping Pong.  The movie is a glimpse into the world of international ping-pong tournaments, and follows 8 competitors as they travel to China to compete for the title of World Champion.  There's one difference: they are all over the age of 80.


The movie throws all stereotypes we have of sherry supping, sleepy; armchair bound grandparents out of the window, and allows us a glimpse into the lives of these fit and active people, just happy to be alive.  With 5 female players entering the tournament, ranging from the age of 85 to 100, the old adage of 'Girl Power' is certainly called forth, and with these ladies defying the boundaries that age throws down in this modern era, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with.  Given our current world where older female actresses are feeling more and more the need to turn to cosmetic aids to help them stay in the business, its refreshing to see a piece of film being so unapologetic for its subject matter.


Here's what Lisa had to say about her career in ping-pong, her views on life, and her plans for the future.



STUDIO: Congratulations on the film, did you enjoy making it?

Lisa Modlich: Thank you, I'm delighted with the way the movie turned out.  We were happy to be a part of it.  They came all the way out to the US from the UK to film us but it was wonderful, I had a great time.


STUDIO: Do you have any tournaments coming up?

LM: Yes, in 2 years there is the world championship in New Zealand and I'm hoping to go again and play.


STUDIO: Do you have any more this year?

LM: No, not this year.  I just had an eye operation 1 month ago, so I don't need glasses any more.  Can you believe it!  But because of that I have to take a break from the tournaments.


STUDIO: How often do you train for the ping-pong tournaments?

LM: I play every day.  I don't call it training.  I go down to the community centre and play with the other people there.  I love it.  I also have a trainer who comes to my home at least once a week, but I love going to the community centre.  There are good players there from all over the world and I play with them.


On Sundays I go down to the Chinese American church to play, and there I play against younger players who are very good.  Some people go to church to pray, I go to play!


STUDIO: You come across as a firecracker in the movie, have you always been like that?

LM: That's me!  I'm from Vienna - there are very lively people in Vienna.  I didn't put on a show at all that's just me.  I'm delighted at how I've come across.


STUDIO: Have you always been competitive?

LM: I've always played sport, so I have always been competitive.  I was a figure skater, I played tennis, I used to swim.  I was always pretty good at ping-pong, I'd play at parties and I was always good.  So when it got too hot to play tennis outside, I moved inside to the air conditioning and started playing ping-pong indoors.


STUDIO: When did you start playing in tournaments?

LM: I started 20 years ago when I was 67-years-old.   In my first year, I won the Texas Championship and that encouraged me to keep going.


STUDIO: It's fantastic that you are still active.  How do you keep so fit?  Do you go to the gym?

LM: No, I just go to the community centre and play.  That's my exercise.  It's always good to keep up a sport to stay active.


STUDIO: Do you feel old?

LM: When I'm healthy, not at all.  I feel even younger now that I have had my eyes operated on.  Can you imagine, no more glasses to keep looking for in the house!


STUDIO: You seem to be very well presented as well, how do you have the energy?

LM: Yes, I have always been that way.   I noticed in the film the other ladies were teasing me about my hair and make up, but I'm lucky enough to be able to afford to look after myself, so I do.  I'm not trying to look young.  I just believe in the French saying, 'Bien Soigné' - which means I like to take care of myself.


STUDIO: You mention in the movie about being part of the French Resistance to Nazi Germany, what were you doing there?

LM: I grew up in Vienna, but before I went to college, we had to do voluntary service.  It was more like involuntary service.  I worked in a factory in France and I was an interpreter.  We had all sorts of people working there; some of the people were prisoners.  I found it fun, but a bit dangerous.  I found it a challenge, but I really enjoyed it.  My luck nobody understood French very well!


I love languages - I speak French, Spanish, English, Russian, and I am learning Chinese.


STUDIO: Do you find yourself forgetting any at all?

LM: No, not at all!  When you learn a language it becomes part of you.


STUDIO: Do you feel like your experiences affected your life?

LM: They have made me glad to be alive, and I hope I can live a few more years.


STUDIO: What advice can you give to other people your age, who maybe aren't so active?

LM: Take up a sport as a hobby and just keep playing.  It releases endorphins so you can enjoy life more.  Sitting at home and watching TV is not good for anyone.



Words by Nishadi Ranasinghe.



Ping Pong opens in cinemas July 6th and is screening at the East End Film Festival.

“I believe in the French saying, ‘Bien Soigné’. I like to take care of myself.”

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