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Local seniors proving tennis is a sport for a lifetime

At age 88, Fred Nordstrom is the oldest player to hit the Depot Courts for doubles play every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Friendly banter accompanies the sound of tennis balls hitting racquets two mornings a week at the Park Rapids Depot Courts.

For the past 30 summers, the Depot Courts has hosted doubles and mixed doubles play every Tuesday morning and Thursday morning (weather permitting). For the group of players age 55 and over (with a few exceptions), meeting for some friendly competition from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. is the perfect way to enjoy a sunny summer morning.

These seniors prove that tennis is an enjoyable form of exercise that can be played inexpensively for a lifetime, no matter of one's skill level or age.

Ev Duthoy was a driving force in building the Depot Courts and continues to be a driving force in helping to maintain the eight-court tennis facility.

"We have a very nice facility," said Duthoy. "A lot of locals and tourists play on these courts."

The 87-year-old Duthoy has been a member of the Park Rapids Tennis Association for the past 30 years and is a regular at the courts two mornings a week.

"The nice thing about tennis is you can virtually play for free." said Duthoy. "I enjoy the social part of it. We always welcome new players to join us."

"Tennis is a good lifetime sport," said Ken Baumgartner, who is another regular player on Tuesday morning and Thursday morning. "I encourage young people to pick up the game."

There is no disputing the health benefits of playing tennis. According to the International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA), tennis provides several physical benefits as well as mental and social benefits. Tennis improves decision-making abilities as well as cognitive functions. The cardiovascular benefits of tennis are also critical when it comes to staying healthy.

Studies have shown that tennis can:

• Decrease a person's likelihood of heart disease and heart attack;

• Improve bone strength;

• Decrease body fat;

• Maintain resilient connective tissue;

• Increase exercise capacity;

• Increase movement economy;

• Prevent loss of muscle mass and strength;

• Increase speed of movement;

• Increase flexibility;

• Increase aerobic capacity;

• Improve balance.

While this group of seniors shows up regularly for the health benefits, the camaraderie and love for the game provide the two main incentives for lacing up their sneakers two mornings a week in the summer.

Eric Barth started playing tennis about 15 years ago. "I haven't had any lessons," said the 82-year-old Barth. "It's fun to go out and play."

Joe Markell is a newcomer to the sport. Markell was driving past the Depot Courts in June of 2016 and was intrigued by the number of players on the courts.

"I saw a bunch of people playing, so I went over and asked what was going on. They invited me to play. I had never played tennis before. Someone gave me a racquet and I played in my boots," said Markell. "I hate jogging, so I come here and play for two hours and get a good workout. It's a blast."

Doug Hed is on the other end of the spectrum. Hed started playing tennis regularly at age 13 and played in high school and on the college team at St. Cloud. Now at age 86, Hed is still hitting the courts.

"It's something I've always done," said Hed, who is another original member of the Park Rapids Tennis Association. "I don't move as well as I used to, but I still enjoy it. I'm not going to quit now."

Lois Nordman also fell in love with tennis at an early age and taught the love of the game to others. The Park Rapids graduate left the area in 1959 before returning in 1999. In those 40 years away from Park Rapids, Nordman taught tennis in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

In her return to Park Rapids, Nordman joined the morning players and has been playing - and occasionally providing some coaching tips - ever since.

"I still like teaching the game," said the 75-year-old Nordman. "I love everything about tennis."

Fred Nordstrom took up the game when he retired in 1993. Now at 88, Nordstrom credits tennis for keeping him so active.

"After I retired, I was looking for something to keep my body in shape. I started bicycling and playing tennis," said Nordstrom. "The great thing about this group is they are so inclusive. You can come here as a stranger with no tennis skills and they'll accept you."

Mary Ann Pech, another Park Rapids native who started playing tennis at the age of 60, has some advice for seniors looking for a fun way to stay active.

"I started playing when I was 60 and I love it," said Pech. "I encourage people to try it. Tennis is a life sport and it's not too late to start. I'm sorry I didn't start when I was younger. I'm going to play as long as I'm able to do it."

Baumgartner picked up a racquet for the first time when he was 12 years old and played occasionally before hitting the courts regularly in 2000 after he retired.

"I took up tennis in earnest in 2000 here and in Arizona. There's a guy in Arizona who's 96 years old and plays tennis three times a week. He's my idol," said the 75-year-old Baumgartner. "It's fun and it's good exercise and I enjoy the camaraderie. I'm going to keep playing as long as I can. As long as my body holds up, I'm going to keep playing."

"It's a fun game and it's good exercise," said Duthoy. "Doubles is something you can play the rest of your life."