TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - She has the talent, experience, skills, guts and guile to be Arizona State University's latest All-American - but one look at Sue Hendricks and one can easily tell she isn’t like all the rest.
“I don’t know that I really understand the degree of what an All-American means but whatever it is I’ll take it,” said a laughing Hendricks. "I’m just glad I qualified for Medicare this month.”
Hendricks is an undergrad student at Arizona State. She’s a stand-out on the Sun Devil racquetball team. She’s an All-American. She’s also 64 years old.
“I’m just flabbergasted, honestly,” said Hendricks. “I never saw it coming. I’m shocked.”
This past weekend at the National Collegiate Racquetball Championships at the ASU Rec Center in Tempe, Hendricks captured a silver medal by defeating two opponents from Texas and Oregon – two college-aged opponents young enough to be Hendricks’ granddaughters. Earning a silver medal also earned the Phoenix native automatic All-American honors.
“It’s fantastic. We’re very proud of her,” said Darren Schenck, who's coached the ASU club racquetball team for 12 years. “Her approach to how she does anything in life reflects on the racquetball court. She’s extremely diligent. She works very hard. She’s very strategic about what she does, and the results show that.”
Hendricks is believed to be the oldest All-American in the history of collegiate athletics. While other collegiate sports, such as archery or golf, may lend themselves to being more "age-friendly" – racquetball is still a physical, fast-paced sport – making Hendricks accomplishment even more remarkable.
“[When opposing players take the court they’re asking], who’s grandmother is this?” said a laughing Schenck.
And after the match?
“Did somebody get the license plate of that truck?” he said.
Schenck continued, “The kids respect her a lot, and I don’t think that age is a huge factor once they get on the court and they see she is going to be competing as an athlete just like they are. I think age goes out the window. She earns the wins that she gets and the players who don’t match up to her ability - whether it’s physically or strategically, pay the price.”
“I learned that the young women are very quick but also, strategy helps,” said Hendricks. “If you have some of that experience in tournaments, that can help you get through that age barrier that you have in your mind.”
Hendricks’ journey to ASU actually began in 1972. After graduating from Arcadia High School, she enrolled at ASU on a full scholarship for piano performance. Soon though, life had other plans, and school would have to wait. Forty-two years later, however, Henricks re-enrolled.
"I am all about breaking through ceilings that we put on us like age, stature, gender - any of those things that limit us, and shouldn’t,” said Hendricks.
Always an outstanding racquetball player, Hendricks had a long-standing relationship with ASU head coach Schenck. After being involved with the program as an advisor, she had an idea – if I’m taking classes – how about I just play? Two years later, she’s earned the right to call herself one of the best college racquetball players in the country. Hendricks’ inspiration? A 22-time world racquetball champion – who also happens to be her husband – Barry Hendricks.
“Barry is a phenomenal person,” said Sue. “I would call him the doctor of racquetball. He had a very serious injury when he was 28 years old and lost his eye - but he continued to move on. His tenacity has always inspired me. He’s my muse for sure.”
“I know how remarkable [Sue] is, not just as a world-class athlete but as a human being,” said Barry. “Anything that she sets her mind to do, she can do - but she also always wants to do something outside of herself, for people outside her circle.”
Sue is unquestionably humbled by her success and the subsequent attention she’s receiving because of it – but as her husband mentioned, if there’s a chance to harness this moment and use it to help others, Sue will find a way. After all, there are few better to spread the message of perseverance, hope and chasing dreams – at any age, it’s a 64-year-old college All-American.
“I hope people let go of thoughts [about their age]," said Sue. “I hope they look into what interests them and what they love doing - and to start on that journey. Start exploring other interests they might’ve had when they were younger but never got a chance to try. I think the whole idea is, just get out there and try things. Who knows what will happen? The sky’s the limit; that’s what I always say.”