“You see that guy over there?” Tony Gild asks, pointing across the alley outside UC San Diego’s RIMAC complex, toward a man hunched over a cane and walking with great difficulty. “I don’t want to be like that.”
At 75, Gild is a squash fanatic. Formerly ranked No. 11 in the country in the 60-65-year-old age bracket, he competes in the World Masters adult squash tournament later this month in Charlottesville, Virginia — against 800 players from 22 countries. He’s here at RIMAC to pick up a quick game against a college student he pays to keep him in shape.
Gild, his wife Renee and their twin daughters relocated to La Jolla from Capetown, South Africa in 1977. Since 1989, he has worked in commercial real estate and still keeps a La Jolla office he walks to four days a week.
Gild says he intends to live in La Jolla for many more years, and squash is part of how he intends to do that.
You don’t find a lot of older people playing squash.
No. It’s a very strenuous aerobic exercise with very quick movement. In this tournament, I’m in the 75-79 division with only eight other Americans, 30 guys total.
Do you think you can win?
My goal is to be respectable and win a couple of matches. I’m not expecting to win the tournament, no way. In fact, I’m not even staying for the finals, because it’s a week long.
Why did you enter, then?
It so happened that I was turning 75 in the same month as the tournament, so I elected to celebrate my birthday by training for it. Usually, I only play squash five months of the year and then tennis the remainder of the year. This is unusual for me to be playing squash in summer.
How did the tournament find out about you?
I applied and got accepted, that’s it. You just have to prove that you’re up to a reasonable standard. They’re making this an exciting event to showcase squash in the United States, because it’s not that well-known here — unless you went to the Ivy Leagues on the East Coast.
How does squash differ from racquetball?
Racquetball is a very nice game. But this is racquetball on steroids. You use the four corners of the wall a lot more and you do a lot more with the ball. You slow down the pace tremendously, you pick up the pace. In racquetball, the ball bounces anywhere from 4 to 10 feet high. In squash, the ball is always at your knee level. So everything is crouch moments, hips and knees, a lot of torque.
What do you like the most about squash?
I like the fact that my tennis skills — being mobile, ball anticipation and eyeball coordination — help me in squash in certain respects. And I enjoy the aerobic quality of it. I like the quick, 45- or 60-minute workout. You don’t have to play for much longer to get a good workout.
But it’s not just squash. I also still play tennis, kayak and I bike and swim. I love La Jolla because the climate is very pleasant and it affords an outdoor lifestyle, very similar to life in Capetown. And the water is a big attraction. I was a born at the ocean, I want to be at the ocean.
Is that why you think so many South Africans resettle here?
Well, the coastal areas, as there are a lot of similarities to Capetown — from the ocean and climate to the quality of life. A lot of South Africans live in Carmel Valley and Solano Beach, too. But La Jolla was where we all started off. It was more affordable then.
Did you play squash back in South Africa?
No, I started about 20 years ago. My father died when he was in his mid-50s and that has prompted me to pay more attention to sport, exercise and eating right. And I think that complete cycle makes someone healthy.
Do you recommend squash for every 75-year-old?
It’s a fun thing to do when you’re 75! You’ve got to do something to keep alive, right?