When Ileana Alvarez-Builla was 5, her father pressed a wooden table tennis paddle into her tiny hands. She, along with her three brothers and father, would play table tennis together in Cuba.
Now, at 64, Alvarez-Builla has qualified for the Florida Senior Games in December. Friday, she played table tennis with other seniors at the Broward Table Tennis club in Hollywood.
“I believe that this sport is a kind of activity that complements your mind and your body,” said Alvarez-Builla, who lives in Miami and works at Home Depot.
While living in Cuba, Alvarez-Builla searched for a way to escape. Her father was trying to bring his family to the U.S. but he died when Alvarez-Builla was 10.
She became a chemical engineer at the University of Havana and waited for a chance to leave Cuba. A few years later she found that opportunity when she was asked to work at a company in Mexico. Alvarez-Builla made it to the U.S. in 2001 and kept her active lifestyle. She’s been competing in table tennis since high school.
If she qualifies in the Florida Senior Games, Alvarez-Builla will have a chance to compete in the National Senior Games, which take place June 2-15 in Birmingham, Alabama.
As well as earning a spot in the Florida games, Alvarez-Builla has been selected as a Humana Game Changer as a role model for seniors because of her dedication to an active and healthy lifestyle, said Marvin Hill, national public relations manager with Humana, which is sponsoring the games.
“Ileana is extraordinary in her dedication to her sport and her focus on health and well-being,” he said. He said he hopes she can inspire others to make healthy choices and become active.
In addition to table tennis, Alvarez-Builla scuba dives, windsurfs, has a black belt in karate and works out daily. She said when her body feels tired, she takes it easy and swims because the activity is easy on her joints.
“I try to do my best,” she said. “This is part of my dreams.”