For about 30 years, Joe Raffa enjoyed playing full-court pickup basketball. Though he wasn’t a great athlete, Raffa liked the exercise, teamwork and camaraderie with his fellow players. Raffa, at the time a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, picked up the game relatively late in life, in the 1970s, when he was in his mid-40s.
But his time on the court was cut short when his body began to break down. In 1996, a ruptured disc in his neck – caused by lifting something from the trunk of his car years earlier – forced him to retire from the sheriff’s department. Raffa’s doctor told him that if he got into a scuffle on the court and his neck turned the wrong way, he could be paralyzed.
A New Game
Reluctantly, Raffa gave up the game he loved. But he didn’t give up on sports and exercise. Raffa moved to Carlsbad, California, a seaside city in northern San Diego County. He joined a senior softball league, age 50 and up. Unlike full-court basketball, which has continuous action, the exercise in softball is episodic; unless you're the pitcher, batter or catcher, you're in the field, waiting for a ball to be hit your way. And that’s fine by Raffa, who’s been playing softball for more than 15 years now.
“It’s just as good socially,” Raffa says. “It’s not as active as basketball – you run when you run, not all the time. At age 75, I’m not going to be running sprints or up and down a basketball court. Without softball, I’d be sitting on the couch like a potato.”