Ray Dinius has gotten his share of strange looks and raised eyebrows from friends and acquaintances over the past few years when he explains how he spends his days. He’s also heard plenty of comments like, “Are you crazy?” His own children were momentarily speechless when they learned which new sport their father had taken up at the age of 70. Golf, bowling, softball? No. Dinius was learning karate, attending several classes each week.
When he was growing up, Dinius needed to work, and there was no time for playing sports. The grandfather of nine has spent a dozen or more years in the stands cheering on grandkids at football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and hockey games. “I think I wanted to show my grandkids I could do a sport too,” he said, as he explained his interest in karate.
Dinius, of Big Lake, began taking karate classes five and a half years ago at Dojo Karate Studio in Monticello. “I was watching a lot of college basketball. I’m a big fan, and I can watch for hours,” he said, “but I was starting to feel bored. Then, I saw an ad in the Monticello Times advertising free karate lessons for one month.” As he thought about it, he wondered if he wasn’t too old and if karate was just for kids. “But I signed up. They had never had a guy my age.” Most of the students were young kids and people in their twenties. It was a little intimidating at first, but Dinius’ instructor, Mr. Z, encouraged him.
Len Zepeda is an instructor at Dojo Karate Studio. “Mr. Z told me to go at my own pace and not to think I have to keep up with the kids. He said to take my time with each belt.” So, Dinius kept at it. And, if he noticed a kid in class looking a bit discouraged, he’d say, “If I can do it, you can do it.” He became an inspiration to many.
Dinius believes his “never give up” attitude comes from surviving three cancers. He was first diagnosed with prostate cancer 18 years ago. That was followed by colon cancer, and, then, bladder cancer three years ago. He feels blessed that each was detected early, requiring only surgery, and no radiation or chemotherapy treatments were needed. “There is life after cancer. I’m living proof,” said Dinius, who is cancer free today.
When he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, he had been taking karate classes for a couple of years. “I loved karate, and I was in the middle of my belts,” he explained. “I wanted to finish getting my black belt. I knew I needed to fight the cancer. Since then, I’ve embraced the attitude of Never Give Up. And here I am, at age 75, still kicking, and I wonder why the Lord lets me survive.” A friend told him he’s here for a purpose, so Dinius wrote an inspiring message which he hopes will be published in all 50 states. His advice to young people and cancer survivors is: Never give up! Never give up! Don’t be a quitter for you only defeat yourself.
Dinius attended karate classes four to five days a week learning self-defense, combination forms and sparring. He got bruises and sore shoulders, and there were times of doubt. He had to work twice as hard as younger students in class. He thought about quitting. “But Mr. Z would tell me, ‘You can do it. There’s no senior citizen here.’ So, I kept at it,” said Dinius. “Some thought I was crazy but the passion and determination were there.”
Dinius did not give up and he eventually received his black belt on March 7, 2015. It was an unforgettable experience. “Graduation was at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There were about 20 from my studio there.” His daughter and three grandchildren were also in attendance, and they had never seen him do karate.
Dinius admits he was a little scared performing before a crowd of 300 people. The sparring match made him the most anxious. “When sparring, it’s for four minutes, and there are no breaks. There are new sparring partners every 30 seconds. You have to be quick.” It was a long four minutes. Dinius said he kept moving and kept his fists in front of his face. He was told later that his daughter was very worried during the event. “But when I was done, and Mr. Z put the black belt on me, I thought ‘Oh, my God!’ and my fellow students yelled, ‘Good going, Mr. Ray!’ It was a great feeling. I think my grandkids are surprised and proud of me.”
Dinius continues to take classes four to five times a week, and he wants to receive his second-degree black belt in the next two years. He believes that karate helped him beat cancer. He feels younger than his age and his doctor is pleased at what good shape he’s in.
Dinius has had a good year. Earning his black belt was a definite highlight, but he has a few more goals to check off his list. So, the rocking chair will have to wait a little longer.