Sunday, August 24, 2008

Picking up the Pace with a Pace Maker

(Photo- Left, Ken Gifford.  Right, Ed Johnstone.)
At the July 2008 Washington State Senior Games held at Lakewood Community Center in Lakewood, Washington, one of the competitors in the 85-89 year old Men's Singles event was Ed Johnstone.  He was not sure if he would be able to participate in the tournament because in the week prior to the event, he had a doctor's appointment.  Apparently, he received clearance to play, and play he did.  Ed sprinted around the pickleball court with an equally nimble opponent.  In two games straight, Johnstone claimed victory over 85 year old Ken Gifford. Johnstone turned 87 this month.  After receiving his gold medal, I walked out into the lobby with him and in a quiet corner, he lifted his shirt so I could see the outline of a pace-maker implanted beneath his skin.  "I had my first pace-maker in 1994 and the second one on 9/11/01."  He continued to tell me, "If anyone tells you they have a pace-maker and don't know if they should play pickleball anymore, well I just want you to know that pickleball is what keeps me alive."   Ed has been playing pickleball for 8 years.  He has an extensive tennis background which includes a stint in the Navy during WWII.  When the Navy discovered that he was a tennis player, they sent him back to Alameda, CA to play in the 12th Naval District tennis tournament. There he won the Singles event, beating the favored Captain, and was promptly sent back overseas.  After serving in the Navy, Johnstone was a banker until his retirement at age 65.  To help make the transition from working to being retired, he decided to take up running marathons.   In the two years following his retirement, he ran 9 marathons in New York, Hawaii, Los Angeles and San Diego.  He and his wife Roe have 3 wonderful children and he gives much of the credit to Roe for how well they turned out and for providing a nurturing home life for them during the times he was away.  Ed's advice for staying in good shape is "never give up."       

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Overcoming Brain Tumor, Stroke and Broken Ribs

(Photo:  Left - Bernie Merrifield and partner Steve Escame show off their silver medals.)
"Are you sure you told the doctor everything?" asked Bernie Merrifield's wife Clenet when he returned from his appointment.  Clenet is a nurse and she just knew that Bernie hadn't given the doctor the full picture.   She marched him back into the doctor's office several days later where further testing and an MRI revealed a tumor in his brain about the size of his fist.  By the next day, November 26, 2006, Bernie was on the operating table to have it removed.   It was a meningioma, which was benign and the surgery was a success. However, several days after this operation, Bernie suffered a stroke which left him physically impaired.  Eager to return to playing pickleball, Bernie was determined to work hard with the physical therapy team to regain his mobility and strength.  Bernie had played pickleball for over 11 years since being introduced to it in Arizona. He had won many medals during the past years in various tournaments and really wanted to get into tournament shape again.   As luck would have it, about six weeks after his surgery, as he was leaving a luncheon, he slipped and fell, breaking 3 ribs. Despite the pain, he continued with his physical therapy.   Slowly, he improved.  One day, several months later, he finally felt strong enough to get out on the court - just to hit the ball around a bit.  Somehow, he could not resist the invitation to play a game and his body told him he was not ready. While going for a lob, he lost his balance and fell to the ground, hitting his head on the court. He wisely decided that his body needed more time and he needed to ease more slowly back into playing the game.  Finally, in the summer of 2008 he was ready.  Bernie entered the Washington State Senior Games in Lakewood, Washington where he and his partner, Steve Escame won silver medals in Men's Doubles.  It was a real triumph of human spirit that so many obstacles and challenges had been overcome to enable Bernie to return to the sport that he loves.  Bernie says pickleball is a wonderful way to meet people and every pickleball player he has ever met has been really nice.  You also get all the benefits of a great physical workout without even feeling like you are exercising.   Bernie continues to improve each day, and at age 73 hopes to be playing pickleball for many more years.