The National Senior Games Association is holding its 2023 games in Pittsburgh this year, where players ages 50 and older play in 20 sports across the city.
When the national competition last came to Pittsburgh in 2005, Oakland resident David Steinbach competed in singles tennis and golf. Now 83, Steinbach is headed back to the games to compete — and he’s not alone. Bob Katzen, a lifelong friend, is joining him to play doubles tennis.
Steinbach and Katzen met more than 70 years ago and are nearly inseparable. They both attend Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, they play golf together at Green Oaks Country Club and their offices even are in the same building.
Steinbach and Katzen have both played tennis and golf for decades. Of the two sports, Katzen’s favorite is tennis, but Steinbach said he doesn’t have a preference.
“Just so I can put a P.S. in there, of all of our contemporaries David is the best golfer and the best tennis player,” Katzen added. “So, it’s hard for him to choose being top banana in both sports. He likes both. So, it’s very easy for me to choose. I like tennis better.”
As for what they like best about tennis, both men emphasized the importance of exercising.
“I like the quickness of the game, and the exercise factor,” Katzen said. “They say golf is an old man’s game. When you play tennis, if you play for an hour and a half, two hours, you’re breathing pretty heavy at the end of it.”
Steinbach and Katzen both play tennis at least three times a week to prepare for the competition, but they don’t get many opportunities to play doubles together.
“The key thing is knowing how each other plays,” Steinbach said. “We’ve played enough with each other over the years. We understand each other’s game. Should we play more? Probably, but it doesn’t work out that way. He’s a busy man.”
Katzen quickly added that Steinbach is also busy since both still work. Steinbach works part time in real estate and Katzen works in the insurance business. Despite their hectic schedules, the two keep their eyes on the prize.
“I was playing baseball last weekend,” Katzen said. “David said ‘I don’t care what you do, win, lose or draw, don’t get hurt because next month is tennis. I don’t want you with one arm or something.’”
Both men have decades of experience playing tennis, but Katzen said that his partner has an analytical mind that helps him compete against younger players. Going into the competition, Steinbach is calming Katzen’s nerves.
“I’ve never played at his level or at a competitive level,” Katzen said. “All my games are just social until he dragged me into this thing. I’m just a little nervous because I’ve never played in something that actually matters.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Steinbach asked.
“We lose,” Katzen replied. “Isn’t it nice to have a partner like that? He doesn’t care if we lose.”
One of the men they play tennis against, Norm Bloom, is competing in the National Senior Games for his fourth time. At 87, Bloom is more active than most. Every morning he does exercises to stretch his body and every afternoon he plays tennis. A heart attack in his 30s encouraged him to reconsider his lifestyle, which included a daily steak and baked potato for dinner. With the help of his wife, he cut meat and dairy out of his diet.
“I’ll have some ice cream every once in a while. I try to say that doesn’t count. I think I had it twice this past year,” Bloom said. “My kids say to me that Tom Brady copied my diet. That’s why he lasted so long in the NFL.”
While Bloom is careful about his health, he doesn’t always listen to what his doctors advise. His commitment to playing is strong enough that he played while he had pneumonia.
“When I was 50, my doctor said, ‘Hey, you’re playing three times a week. You need to take start taking it easy,’” Bloom said. “And I said, ‘Wait a minute, the heart’s a muscle. I think you want to exercise it,’ so I went to five times a week, and he since has retired and doesn’t play tennis. And when I was 70, again, I was told that playing five times a week is too much. That’s when I went to seven days a week.”
Bloom has played tennis competitively for four decades, and he feels that a match reveals a lot about someone’s character.
“Tennis is really interesting because it’s a microcosm of life,” Bloom said. “I always say you can put somebody on a court for an hour, he and I play, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about that person. What kind of person he is, how honest he is, how determined he is. A person’s whole personality comes out, and I thought that forever and the older I get, the more I see it.”
The 2023 National Senior Games run from July 7-18. Men’s singles tennis for those 85 and older, like Bloom, begins on July 12, while Katzen and Steinbach have their first match on July 13. The full schedule can be found on the NSGA’s website, nsga.com. PJC
Abigail Hakas can be reached at email@example.com.