George Kent is a superhero.
Or at least he is in the eyes of his fellow pickleballers, who play with the 97-year-old Lake Oswego resident three times a week at the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department's Palisades campus.
"He's inspirational. He's motivational. He's all those things that give us the confidence that we too can continue playing into old age," says Julie Mitzel of the LO Pickleball Club. "It keeps us all going."
Kent celebrated his 97th birthday last week, and Mitzel and the rest of the club threw him a pickleball extravaganza featuring endless pickleball games, cupcakes and refreshments.
Two years ago, Kent was forced to give up two of his lifelong hobbies: tennis and downhill skiing. He realized he was losing a lot of his physical activity with those two sports no longer in his life, though, so he figured he'd give pickleball a try.
Having played tennis since the age of 8, he quickly fell in love with pickleball, as well as with the community that has grown around the increasingly popular sport in Lake Oswego.
"The court is smaller, so you don't have to move quite as much. You can move a little and still get to the ball," Kent says. "Most people out here are former tennis players."
Pickleball shares many similarities with tennis, badminton, racquet ball and even ping pong.
Invented in Washington in the mid-1960s, the game was born when a group of badminton players lost their shuttlecock and improvised by using a wiffle ball and lowering the net.
The game gets its name from inventor Joel Pritchard's family dog, "Pickles."
According to several reports from publications across the United States, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, and one of the reasons is that it's a simple game that nearly anyone, of any age or skill level, can play.
"There's a competitiveness. You want to win, but you play for the enjoyment of it," says LO Pickleball Club member Susan Door. "I love pickleball, because I can play it as I get older. And George is a testament to the fact there is no age limit."
At last week's pickleball birthday party, members of the LO Pickleball Club donned shirts emblazoned with Kent's face and text that read, "George at 97 is our superhero."
"They actually emailed my daughter last week while I was in Hawaii so they could get the photo of me to put on the shirts," Kent says, half embarrassed, half flattered. "I've met some good friends here. A lot of them are very good players, especially these ladies here."
Kent, a World War II veteran and former chief engineer at Viewmaster, says there's no secret to his longevity, though he tended to stay away from tobacco and alcohol throughout his life. He tries to make it to three pickleball sessions a week, and in the summer you can find him kayaking around Oswego Lake for a bit of extra physical activity.
"George's longevity tells us that the possibility is there. That if you're active, your life feels more complete. So it means everything to see him out here," Door says.
Door and Mitzel hope that more people see Kent as an inspiration and use his story to get out and try new things like pickleball. The LO Pickleball Club offers five sessions throughout the week for players to participate, socialize and have some fun in a low-pressure environment.
"We all genuinely like to be together. It's a super-inclusive and fun group," Door says. "You can be active, you can be inactive, it doesn't matter. Just come out and see."
For more information on the LO Pickleball Club, visit bit.ly/LOPickleball.
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