Senior Planet talks to…Stan Smith – Senior Planet from AARP

Senior Planet talks to…Stan Smith – Senior Planet from AARP

Two-time Grand Slam singles winner Stan Smith, 77, has lived the life of a champion – both on and off the center court. But it is in his humanitarian work that he continues to find the greatest satisfaction.

For some people, Stan Smith is a shoe – thanks to his iconic namesake Adidas sneaker.  A giant among men, the 6’4” Tennis Hall of Famer is now the subject of a documentary, Who Is Stan Smith?

Senior Planet talks to the man behind the myth:

Q: In 1971 you were the No. 1 tennis player in the world – as well as pairing with Bob Lutz to create one of the most successful doubles teams of all time. What is your greatest memory?

STAN SMITH: There’s so many elements. Playing-wise, winning Wimbledon was very special to me, especially since I lost the year before in the finals. And then, just the opportunity that I’ve had to be with a great wife and family has been extraordinary. The time I’ve spent with my family and on the road with them particularly, has been most significant, I think.

Q: The documentary also highlights your 50-marriage to Marjory Gengler. What is the key to your happy union?

STAN: The fact that she played tennis and understood a little bit about what it was like was very helpful. She understands what it’s like to compete and to work hard, and she’s got a great heart and sense of service. She’s spent a lot of time teaching; she home taught our kids and then she’s been working at the Boys and Girls Club, teaching mathematics and reading. She’s got a great curiosity in life and has been very flexible. We were on the road together for a long time and still are quite a bit. Even at home, we take advantage of all our time together.

Q: How do you fill your days?

STAN: I have a company called Stan Smith Events; we help corporations entertain clients at major events, major tennis events, even rugby; the Olympics and that sort of thing. And I’m very involved in our tennis academy here at Hilton Head Island (S. Carolina) so I go there for two hours every day that I’m in town, which is about half the time. We’ve been going for 22 years and my goal really is to encourage young people: the word that I really think is important is: gratitude. To be grateful for what you have and not dwell on those things that you don’t have. Then, hopefully, you can help people that aren’t as fortunate as you are and make their lives a little bit better.

Q: You must feel very proud to see Mark Mathabane’s life flourish after helping him escape apartheid in South Africa?

STAN: Yes, my wife and I helped him quite a bit in the beginning. But we’ve probably received more – just from the satisfaction of what he’s made of his life. All he needed was a little bit of help and education. So when I speak to him now, he’s a lot smarter than I am! And, from coming from Alexandra, the township in Johannesburg, to realize what he’s done, academically, as well as socially, is just extraordinary. He got married and has three kids, who all went to Princeton.

Q: Of your four adult children and 17 grandchildren, do any share your tennis talent?

STAN: The grandkids are all pretty young. One is 19 but the rest are 14 or younger, playing tournaments. They have aspirations. Three of my adult children were captains of their teams in college but my daughter, as a college junior, asked if I’d be upset if she didn’t play tennis. I said “absolutely no problem. You don’t have to play tennis because of me.” Everybody’s got their own talents.

Q: What you do for fitness aside from tennis?

STAN: We have a little gym in our house and I use the elliptical and walk every night this last year, after dinner for about a mile or so. I do some stretching and core work every day. I hurt my back about 35 years ago and I do a set of exercises.

I also try to push away from the table a little bit earlier at the end of a meal. I’m not vegetarian but I don’t eat as much meat as I used to. But I really try to watch the amounts I’m eating and I take in some supplements and I’m trying to get a little more involved in fruits and vegetables. I’ve gotten to the point of understanding that a balanced meal  is a no brainer – and also not eating so much.

Q: The Adidas Stan Smith sneakers became a huge success in 1978. Did you get a kick out of celebrities like David Bowie wearing them? 

STAN: Yes, it’s been fun to see all the different people wearing them over the years, from the President of the United States and the First Lady (the Obamas), to hip hop artists and preppies.

Q: They’ve never gone out of fashion. Do you wear them yourself?

STAN: I pretty much wear them all the time. I’ve got over 100 different pairs.

Q: Who’s your favorite tennis player today?

STAN: Until about a year ago, Roger Federer was – but he’s retired now and Nadal certainly was great to watch. So Carlos Alcaraz is my favorite now. Not only for his unbelievable variety of weapons that he has – he hits hard; he’s got great touch; he moves like the wind – but he’s got a great joy for the game. He’s only been around for a few years now, but his fans gravitate towards his joy the game. It’s like he’s really appreciative of being out there and playing and showing people what he can do.

Q: How did your own documentary come about?

STAN:  LeBron James’ production company, Spring Hill saw my book, Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe and asked if I’d be interested in a documentary. Then they got Danny Lee to direct it and figure out how to shape the story around my playing career, the shoe, my family and my other activities and the humanitarian aspect. He did a really good job and I enjoyed getting to know him.

Making the film made me analyze what’s really important in life,  It’s really the family and the opportunities to be with them and share experiences. And we have been almost everywhere, which has been amazing. But I do want to go to Iceland. It’s the one place I haven’t visited.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Q: Any advice for fellow seniors?

STAN: Well I think the one word would be grateful. Be grateful for what you have.  And the more you give back, I think the more you get from life. Those are the benefits of reaching out. I know that when people are feeling bad or something has been difficult in their lives, they go out and try to help somebody else. I think that can help them make it through those situations. And to stay active too. Move! Move, both physically, emotionally and mentally. Keep moving. That’s gonna keep you going.

Q: What’s your secret to aging with attitude?

STAN: I think that God’s given all of us a certain amount of talent and it’s our responsibility to live up to that as much as possible. Also, why is retirement a requirement? I don’t think I’ll ever retire from things I’m doing. If you enjoy the things you’re doing, then why stop? I think my family keeps me young too.

Who is Stan Smith? opens at New York Citys Angelika Film Center on May 10, playing in 50 + theaters around the country.

Photo (top) Courtesy of Who is Stan Smith?

Gill Pringle began her career as a rock columnist for popular British newspapers, traveling the world with Madonna, U2 and Michael Jackson. Moving to Los Angeles 27 years ago, she interviews film and TV personalities for prestigious UK outlets, The Independent, The i-paper and The Sunday Times – and, of course, Senior Planet. A member of Critics Choice Association, BAFTA and AWFJ, she wrote the screenplay for 2016 Netflix family film, The 3 Tails Movie: A Mermaid Adventure. An award-winning writer, in 2021 she was honored by the Los Angeles Press Club with 1st prize at the NAEJ Awards.


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