Watching Monroe Ratchford and his friends in Alamogordo play table tennis is more difficult than one would imagine. The bright yellow ball flies from one player’s paddle across the rooms and returns immediately after. The players’ twists of the wrist and leaps across the table show the skill needed to compete at national levels.
“I play table tennis three hours, sometimes four or five hours, a day,” Ratchford said. “It strengthens the upper body. Your mind, reflexes, determination, so many things are involved. I perspire more in this than anything else I do.”
He does a lot. Ratchford competes in the Otero County Olympics in 12 events, including several track and field competitions, and bowling. At New Mexico Senior Olympics state events he has won first place five times “or more” he said.
He has competed at the National Senior Olympics four or five years, but didn’t win a medal until last year when he won thirdplace for the running long jump. “I could have won first place,” he said, “because my jump was longer in qualifying than in the finals. It was a little chilly to me and I pulled some muscles.”
Rather than give up the long jump after the injury, Ratchford came home and sought professional help. He changed his exercises to better balance his muscle strength. Last year he jumped 13 feet, 8 inches with no problems.
He currently holds the New Mexico State Senior Olympic records in running long jump, shot-put, and standing long jump.
Other track and field events attract him, but many are held at the state level on Saturday, Ratchford’s Sabbath, and he can’t participate then to qualify for the national level competitions.
Ratchford turned 72 years old in June and spends his time exercising and studying scriptures. “So what I’m doing now is just splurging,” he said. “I’m on my last leg, that’s scriptural, ‘Whatever you decide to do, do it with all your might.’ My goal this year is just to compete and do my best in every event. Whether I win or lose, that’s another thing. I don’t lose any sleep over it.”
Ratchford served in the Air Force for 26 years, achieving the rank of Master Sergeant, and traveling through Europe and the Far East. When he left the military, he earned a bachelors of business administration at the age of 50 and entered the private sector. He returned to earn his masters of business administration. When he retired, he said, he suffered a breakdown in his health. He credited exercise and the activities programs at the Alamogordo senior center for helping him recuperate.
Son of an Alabama sharecropper and grandson of a former slave, Ratchford is most proud of his success in getting his childhood home on a historic register. “I picked cotton before I knew my name,” he explained. “I slept on a pallet in a house with only two rooms.”
When his father couldn’t make it as a sharecropper, he went to work at a rock quarry breaking rocks at “about the age of 47,” Ratchford said. “He was a broken man at 51.” The family had to move out of the company house when he couldn’t work anymore. That was when the elder Ratchford built a two-room house with rejected lumber, adding rooms each year for the next few years.
“I still have the deeds to the house. They published a book and it’s in there. They game me a metal plaque and when I go home I get it set up outside.”
He plans to visit the house when he attends the National Senior Olympic Games in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this year.