Doug Dvorak, 62, Donelly, Idaho
Doug Dvorak loves playing pickleball, and his passion for the game comes from a series of life challenges he says he overcame by taking up the popular sport.
Speaking from a hotel room in Philadelphia, Doug demonstrates his obsession. “Guess what I have with me?” he asks. “My pickleball paddle! I bring a foam ball with me, and on a five-hour layover at O’Hare yesterday I drilled at the airport in a quiet corner.”
Dvorak has earned success and notoriety as a motivational speaker and leadership trainer, presenting to more than one million people in more than 100 countries over three decades. “It’s such a high honor and privilege to have organizations call on me to help,” he says. “As it’s said, find something you like to do and do it for the rest of your life and it won’t seem like work.”
That’s true, but the rigors of travel took its toll a few years ago. Although he had a great career and a supportive wife, being on the road and alone in a hotel up to 44 weeks a year left him lonely. “I had some predispositions to alcoholism and drugs, and then my dad died a violent death followed by a cancer diagnosis. Those three factors forced me to really look at my life, my behavior and my attitudes. The only way out was through.”
The man who had helped thousands of others had work to do on himself, and he found an unexpected ally to help reshape his life – pickleball. “Albeit it was the worst period of my life, in retrospect those were the greatest gifts besides losing my Dad,” he says. “I unpacked all areas of my life and kept what was adding value, joy, happiness, and health. Pickleball was just a natural way to fill the void from the unhealthy habits.”
Doug is clean and sober now, and three surgeries have kept his squamous cell carcinoma at bay. “I’m still ultra-vigilant about it. People call me The Mummy when I play because I wear gloves, a hat and wear long sleeves and leggings for protection.”
Growing up, Doug played soccer through school years and found racquetball while attending Flagler College. “That was my game,” he says. “It was like I was meant for it. I got a sponsor and competed for eight years. Winning a pro tournament in Chicago in 1986 was a high point.”
He played into his 40’s until the work demands set it aside. As Doug faced his challenges he felt the need to get more active again. Seven years ago, He attended a pickleball clinic in Boise conducted by famed walker and motivational speaker Robert Sweetgall and realized he had gone to one of his seminars years before. “We laughed that we found each other after 12 years. Robert brought me into the game.”
Doug enjoys playing all ages but discovered a new world when he qualified at the Idaho Senior Games and then competed in this year’s National Senior Games. He played 60-64 doubles with his regular partner Ken Kester and made a new friend playing mixed doubles with Elizabeth Roop of Alabama in Fort Lauderdale. They didn’t medal but Doug was captivated by the atmosphere. “The most moving part of the Games was walking with Ken in the Parade of Athletes behind the Idaho flag along with a bowler and an archer from my state,” he says.
“The State and National Senior Games experience is so different from the typical pickleball tournament. The sense of community, of sharing and belonging among an all-senior group is powerful,” he observes. “I’ve been able to build friendships that extend outside of the sport that allow me to share and talk about life issues. That’s what I get out of Pickleball and Senior Games.”
As a reward for his makeover, Doug decided to treat himself with a unique experience. “In January of 2024 I’ll be going into space with a company called World View Ventures,” he says. “It’s not a rocket, it’s a balloon with a pressurized cabin that goes up 100,000 feet. Two hours up, four hours enjoying watching the curvature of the Earth, and then back down. I’m excited!”
That ought to give Doug plenty more to talk about.