Workouts along with time to rest help Larry Rusk find his healthy sweet spot
By Bill Richardson
How much exercise is too much? How much is not enough?
At 73 years of age and retired for six years, these are the questions Larry Rusk regularly asks himself as he searches for the perfect balance in his daily activity.
A native of Noble, Illinois, but a resident of Vincennes for half a century, Rusk is much more physically active than your average senior. Riding a bicycle, stretching and playing pickleball are all part of his daily routine. So are dealing with aches and pain, and strategically placing ice packs on his body when he gets home from a workout.
“You don’t want to overdo it, yet you want to stay active,” Rusk says. “That’s something most seniors have a tough time with. I don’t have the answer. I’m stiff and sore, already. But I think if I didn’t do what I do, I’d be even more stiff and sore. I think it’d be worse.”
A 1964 Noble High School graduate, Rusk had a diverse 50-year path to retirement, working mostly in and around Knox County. After earning an associate’s degree from Vincennes University, he started out in journalism and spent nearly a decade running the sports department at the Vincennes Sun-Commercial in the 1970s. Next was a venture into the fast-food business, as Rusk and a partner purchased franchise rights for four Cindy’s hamburger restaurants. A 20-year career working in human resources and labor relations for E. Bierhaus and Sons followed. He then worked eight years each for Linco Services in Washington, and Wabash Food Service in Vincennes. He retired at the age of 67 in 2013.
That doesn’t mean Rusk hasn’t stayed busy. He travels a lot with his wife of 34 years, Lorethea, and has an otherwise full schedule. He has two daughters, Suzanna Linderman of Jasper and Jodie Rusk of Lawrenceville, Illinois, and enjoys spending time with his grandchildren.
Remaining physically active has also been a priority as Rusk believes that’s part of the secret to good health.
Once you move to the ball (in pickleball) correctly — once you get there — everybody’s the same age.— Larry Rusk
“I’m a strong believer in doing at least 30 minutes to an hour of something every day,” he said. “But if I do more than that, I’ve found that I hurt probably more than I should. You have to figure it out. Am I doing too much? Am I not doing enough? You’re always looking for that balance.”
A high school basketball standout for Noble, Rusk was a regular on the courts in games at the Vincennes YMCA for about 35 years. He was also heavily involved in the once-robust Vincennes tennis scene.
He discovered his latest passion, pickleball, about five years ago. It’s not uncommon for him to play six days a week, in various towns around the area.
“I was able to pick it up quickly,” he said. “It helps if you’ve played tennis. The strokes aren’t the same, and if you try to use your tennis strokes in pickleball, you’re going to get yourself into trouble. Still, having played tennis helps a lot.”
Invented in 1965 in the state of Washington, pickleball is what Rusk refers to as a “hybrid sport.” It combines the elements of badminton, ping-pong and tennis and features a perforated ball, similar to a Wiffle ball. The sport can be played both indoors and outside on a surface that measures 20 by 44 feet, or about one-third the size of a tennis court.
Pickleball proponents proclaim it to be the fastest growing sport in the United States, with nearly 3 million participants. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 12 percent increase in participation, according to an industry report.
Although it’s a game enjoyed by folks of all ages, it’s become especially popular among seniors, because it’s easy to play, very social and not as stressful on muscles, tendons and joints.
“It’s a great activity,” said Rusk. “It requires some movement and some eye-hand coordination, but there’s not a lot of running or bending.”
The sport appears to be flourishing in this area. Regular pickleball sessions take place in nearby cities and towns in both Indiana and Illinois. Some folks prefer singles play, but doubles competition is far more popular, especially among the older set.
In Vincennes, during the winter months, a group of 20 or more gets together each Saturday morning at the YMCA. When the weather is nice, there are six relatively new courts at Lester Square Memorial Park on South Ninth Street. Through donations and a lot of volunteer work, they were installed where the tennis courts used to be, at less than half of what the expected cost should be.
“Those courts are quite a deal,” Rusk said. “They’re as good as any courts I’ve ever played on, anywhere.”
Rusk became so enamored with the sport that earlier this year he began giving lessons, and more than 60 people have taken his classes. For his efforts, Rusk was chosen as the Vincennes YMCA’s Volunteer of the Year, and was recently recognized at a ceremony in Indianapolis.
In a class for beginners, Rusk had more than 40 students, mostly senior females, who were interested in picking up the game. For convenience, the four-week classes were offered both during daytime and evening hours.
“We started with the basics,” he said. “Eventually we learned how to keep score and we played some games. By the time they were done, they were ready to go.”
Another 20 players or so signed up for an advanced class.
The effort was successful enough that Rusk plans to continue teaching the game in 2020 and beyond, on courts at both the YMCA and Gregg Park.
“Once they get started, a lot of people will find they’re addicted to it. I’m for sure addicted to it,” he said. “It’s a good workout. It’s a lot of fun, and you can usually find someone you’re competitive with to play.”
Older players need not be intimidated, he stresses. They’re not as quick, and can’t cover as much area.
“But older players can make up for that by thinking better,” he said. “That’s the only thing we have going for us, but it’s important. Once you move to the ball correctly — once you get there — everybody’s the same age.”
Rusk is modest in assessing his own game. He’s had some success, as he and a teammate just missed out medaling in the 70-and-over division at a Senior Olympics competition in Evansville.
“On certain days, when I feel really good, I’m a pretty good player,” he said. “On other days, I’m just kind of mediocre.”
He’s all right with that, because after all, at this stage in his life, winning isn’t what matters most.
“It’s a fine line, but I really believe everybody can find what’s best for them,” he said. “But if anybody ever does, I wish they’d let me know.”