ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Mike Welter stepped up to the baseline to serve with the score tied at 13. He and his Pickleball mixed doubles partner, Nancy Robertson, had seen their 11-5 lead disappear into a tie in an elimination game.
A time out was called.
Welter, the 2017 Florida Senior Games Male Athlete of the Year, had been in this situation before. He served out the next two points and the Robertson/Welter team was victorious, 15-13.
However, the situation was much different than the times during his 2015-2017 Florida Senior Games run where he was in the gold medal match in Men’s Singles and Doubles and Mixed Doubles for three consecutive years.
It was different at the 2019 National Senior Games, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because on September 30, 2018, Welter suffered a stroke which rendered the left side of his body temporarily paralyzed.
During his play on Tuesday at the Manzano Mesa Community Park, where all 18 courts were filled with 60-64 age group mixed doubles teams, Welter and Robertson, won two matches and lost two. Now nine months after the stroke, Welter’s comeback saw him swinging his paddle with authority. He handled the soft shots at the net with ease, his stamina held up in the 5,300 foot altitude of Albuquerque and he even caught one of his opponents leaning in the wrong direction and placed a shot inches from the line in the other direction for a point.
“I’m coming back and it’s a work in progress that I’ll be dealing with for the rest of my life,” Welter said. “But by golly, I’m here and I’m having fun.”
One thing still hindering Welter’s comeback is the lack of vision in his left eye. It affects his peripheral vision and depth perception.
“If I can see them, I can get to them,” he said. “My stamina and running is fine.”
Welter and Robertson won their first match of the day 11-8, 11-9 and fell in their second match to the team of Nanette and William Muno, from Coloardo, 11-2, 11-3. The Muno/Muno team went on to win the Mixed Doubles 60-64 age group gold medal.
Robertson foresaw the Muno’s success after their loss. “They’re going to be a top five team,” she said. “With any partner, that would have been a tough match.”
In the first match of the consolation bracket, they defeated Patty Koyama and Todd Richter, 15-13 and lost their second match to Delia Wan and Richard Bell, 15-3.
Welter’s comeback continues as he practices three times a week in Cape Coral. He qualified for the 2019 Florida Senior Games at the Lee County Senior Games and the Charlotte County Fit for Life Games.
Patrice Hirr, a swimmer from The Villages, completed her six-for-six sweep of gold medals winning the 200-yard IM, 200-yard Breastroke and 50-yard Butterfly in the 70-74 age group. She won the 200-yard IM with a time of 3:13.80 and came from behind to defeat New Mexico’s Colleen Burns by less than a second, with a time of 3:31.69. Topping off her efforts was a National Senior Games record-setting time of 37.60 in the 50-yard Butterfly.
On Monday, Hirr, the 2009 Florida Senior Games Female Athlete of the Year, won gold medals in the 100-yard IM and 100-yard Breaststroke, and on Sunday, won the 100-yard Butterfly.
Florida Tennis players are making themselves known in the Men’s Singles 75-79 age group as two players will finish in the top four of the age group.
Julian Rainwater, of Ponte Vedra Beach, defeated Barry Shollenberger, of Valrico, in the semifinal match to advance to the gold medal match against James Bishop. Shollenberger will meet Ted Hollembeak in the bronze medal match. Both play at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Shollenberger will also team with Jay Bortner, until recently a Florida resident from Valrico, in the bronze medal match on Wednesday. The team of Shollenberger and Bortner have won medals in each of the last four National Senior Games dating back to 2011 in Houston.
A total of 867 Florida athletes are among a record number of 13,716 athletes competing in the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Games continue through Monday, June 24.