But she discovered "there are 100 nerves in our brain that are not used," and took up Ping-Pong. At first, it was hard for her to even pick up the balls, but she eventually got better -- good enough to go to China for the championships.
The Mongolian champion, 80-year-old Hulung SunYong Qing, attributes his success to ginseng, rice wine and vitamin E. Surprisingly, he still smokes.
"We argue about his smoking, but he never listens," says his wife in the film. "He says he can't control it. ... But he still has a lot of energy."
One of the fiercest players is Lisa Modlich, who was born in Austria but came to the United States as a war bride in 1947. Competitive to the core, she speaks six languages, including Chinese.
"Whatever it is, I try to be good at it," the confident Houston retiree told ABCNews.com. "When I was a little girl, my mother used to say, 'You're not pretty so you better be smart.' But I don't think my looks are so bad."
With a sturdy build and a shock of white hair piled atop her head, Modlich called her second husband, "my Adonis. He was was 24 and I was 45."
At 88, she, too, was vying for gold. Modlich only took up Ping-Pong in her 70s after she found it "too hot" to move around the tennis court and moved her sport indoors. She was good, so she hired a coach and starting winning competitions -- 135 gold medals in all.
"Your coordination doesn't change," she said of aging. "The muscles get weaker and you play a little less fast, don't move fast enough. I can tell the difference when I play young people."
But she scoffs at her competition, Australian centenarian DeLow.
"Everyone made a big fuss about it, but she didn't know how to play," said Modlich. "No one was there to contest her, so she got away with it."
What keeps Modlich young?
"Genetics," she snapped.
And staying active.
"Americans should move instead of watching television," she said. "Get off the couch."
In the film, just before her match-point round, she says, "I am not going to cry over second, but tomorrow, I'd like to get first."
Only one of these colorful octogenarians goes home a world champion, but the point of the film is not about Ping-Pong or winning.
"We started off making a film about old people and were interested in the end of their lives," said director Hugh Hartford. "A lot of the conversations we had with these characters were about death, but I think the film taught us about life and what we do with it and living."
The film poignantly ends with Terry Donlon, home from the hospital, flexing his muscles once again: "This is where the mind takes over."