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Billie Jean King, on LI, urges seniors to be active

Women's Sports Foundation founder Billie Jean King speaks

Women's Sports Foundation founder Billie Jean King speaks onstage during the 34th annual Salute to Women In Sports Awards at Cipriani in New York City. (Oct. 16, 2013) Credit: Getty

She will be 70 next month, Billie Jean King noted, which would qualify her to live at Roslyn's Atria senior living community, where she spoke Tuesday night. But her don't-look-back theme for the current residents -- "to think about living now and really being active, body and mind and soul" -- had its roots in a teaching moment from her father when she was 15.

"I was upset," she recalled, "because I finally got on the front page of the sports section . I remember telling my dad, 'I finally made the first page but I lost, 6-0, 6-0. First round.'

"And he goes, 'Well, it's not yesterday, is it?' He goes, 'What really matters is what you do today, not yesterday.' I think that really stays in my heart and mind. It really is what you do today."

King's role as Active Aging Ambassador for the different Atria communities in the area reflects her belief in being social, having friends, drawing on connections to find motivation to keep going.

So much of her pioneer work already is part of history, her agitating for equal opportunity for women and minorities, her singular blow for female players and tennis visibility in general when she clobbered old Wimbledon champ Bobby Riggs in that 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match.

But there's always more to be done, and she is happy to argue that tennis could benefit from discarding "lessons" for young players. Let them train as a team, emphasize the fun.

She works out regularly at the gym, plays tennis only occasionally. And she has left the competitive urges of being a Grand Slam champion in the past.

"I don't miss it," she said. No burning desire to play against current No. 1 Serena Williams or today's other elite pros, she said, though "it would be really cool to play like they play," King said. "Every generation gets better, and it's our responsibility to push the next generation to get better.

"I wonder what it feels like to hit like they do. I wonder if I could hit just one forehand or one serve with that kind of power. And to have all the information they have now. That's good, how they know more about how to take care of themselves.

"Diet. I ate steak and eggs, all these things that are not even good for you. At last we have better nutritional facts available."

Meanwhile, she said, the food at Atria "is really good."

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