This 80-year-old beach volleyball champ is still an ace on the sand
Most people in their 70s and beyond turn to golf or swimming for recreation. Not Lois Austin.
At 80, Austin is still playing a sport she learned 60 years ago: beach volleyball.
She plays three times a week, two to three games each day that she plays, and she’s the oldest in the group, competing with 11 people — six on each team — who are 20 to 30 years younger.
Lois and Ed Austin, her husband of 36 years, ran the California Beach Volleyball Assn. tournaments in Corona del Mar for about 15 years. They usually play against each other during matches.
She also plays on some indoor teams through her participation in the Utah-based Huntsman World Series Games, tournaments that attract athletes 50 and older. This year, her team won the gold in the 73-and-up category.
The most important part of playing volleyball isn’t the score, says Austin, who placed first in her last tournament.
“I play because of my friends,” she said. “Volleyball is everything for me. It cements relationships with people. You have a bond.”
On a recent Thursday morning at Corona del Mar State Beach, Austin planted her feet in the sand, bent her knees and crouched slightly, swinging both arms back in preparation for a jump.
“I’ve got it!” she shouted to her teammates.
She snapped the ball across the net and watched the opposing team scurry and miss.
“That was a great set,” she said, high-fiving players.
Afterward, Austin barely looked tired.
“She’s a freak of nature — truly amazing,” said teammate Susie Crone, 54, who was on the volleyball team at Corona del Mar High School and played in the California Interscholastic Federation finals all four years. “She’s an inspiration to all of us, as an athlete and beyond.”
Austin, who grew up in Corona del Mar, played basketball, softball, field hockey and volleyball at Orange High, graduating in 1953. At the time, there were few luxuries — no playoffs, for instance — in girls’ sports.
She was a lifeguard secretary for 15 years with the city of Newport Beach. Before she retired in 1996, Austin worked part-time for the city’s utilities department.
She met her husband in the 1960s, when he was one of the top beach players and she was playing there on the weekends.
Ed Austin earned his way to an AAA ranking, meaning he had intensive training for national tournament competition at the collegiate and semi-professional levels and had obtained a regional or a national ranking.
“He was 30, I was 42 and we decided to play in a tournament together,” Lois Austin said. “He’d lower himself to play with me.”
“She’s a phenomenon,” her husband said.
The Austins, who live in Aliso Viejo, have one daughter and one grandson, who is a soccer player at San Francisco State University.
Austin said she has managed to keep doing the thing she has loved her whole life, despite having three knee surgeries, through thoughtful living.
“I watch what I eat, lift weights two times a week and if I get upset, go to my Bible,” she said.
Austin said she plays beach volleyball because the sand provides a softer landing and is kinder to her knees. But once a week, she plays an indoor game of volleyball, as she has for the last six years.
The casually formed beach volleyball group that she has played with for two years has not missed a Thursday, though a Saturday game was canceled because of a washout, Austin said.
“These guys here don’t look at my age,” Austin said. “They look at what I can do.”
After Austin helped her team win, 15-12, she walked with her teammates over to a set of beach chairs and took a break before their next two games.
“Look at this,” she said as she looked out at the ocean. “Let’s sit and talk for a while. It’s a little bit of heaven right here.”
Luppi writes for Times Community News.
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