2024 Florida Senior Games, December, 2-15, Florida's Sports Coast/Pasco County

From the Hospital Bed to the Podium

Five years mean a lot in the life of a Florida Senior Games athlete.

Age groups are divided into five year intervals and the athletes advance from being the youngest in the age group to the oldest before starting the cycle over.

The last five years in the life of Florida Senior Games Pickleball athlete, Mike Welter, have been life altering.

On September 30, 2018, Welter was visiting family in Pennsylvania, when he suffered a stroke. The right side of his brain was severely damaged, leaving the left side of his body paralyzed. He went through months of rehab to learn how to walk again.

In early December of 2018, Welter and his wife, Diane, attended the Florida Senior Games Celebration of Athletes, where he slowly and deliberately made his way to the stage to receive his hard-earned 2017 Male Athlete of the Year Award.

The year prior, Welter won the gold medal in Pickleball Mixed Doubles 60-64 age group and the Men’s Doubles 65-69 age group gold. From 2013 through 2017, he played in championship matches in all three events (Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles).
He was at the top of his game.

Five years after the stroke, Welter has made a miraculous comeback. In leading up to the five-year anniversary, Welter won a National Senior Games Men’s Doubles Gold Medal, in the 70-74 age group, in Pittsburgh, PA, in July.

When he climbed on the medal stand at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with his gold medal and partner, George Basista, he was across the river from the Allegheny General Hospital, where he was transported by LifeFlight.

Welter admits he was a bit nervous about returning to downtown Pittsburgh. However, the outcomes were the same. In 2018, he regained his strength to return home to Cape Coral. In 2023, he returned home to Cape Coral with a gold medal in a very crowded field of over 1,500 pickleball players from around the country.

“I’m back to a point where I can play pickleball all day,” Welter said. “I’m physically very normal and can stay on the court with anyone. My left arm and leg are 100%.”

His current condition is a far cry from when he didn’t have the stamina to drive and needed someone to be with him at all times.

Along with regaining his stamina to stay on the court with anyone, Welter has adapted an overall healthy lifestyle which included eliminating caffeine and fried foods from his diet and limiting his sodium intake.

Besides his National Senior Games Championship, Welter and Basista were gold medalists at the Minto U.S. Open Championships in Naples, in April. The pair were gold medalists at the 2023 Lee County Senior Games and will compete in the 2023 Florida Senior Games, at the Sarah Vande Barg Tennis and Wellness Center. He will also pair with Barb Castillo, in Mixed Doubles.

Now 71 years old, Welter will advance up to the 75-79 age group for the 10th anniversary of his life altering event. He will no doubt be advancing through Pickleball brackets to more gold medals.

Keep up the good work, Mike. The Florida Sports Foundation salutes you for embodying the true spirit of the Florida Senior Games and a promoting healthy and active lifestyle.