For Jarol and Leah Duerksen, table tennis is more than a game, it’s the glue that holds them together and drives their social interactions.It even played a key role in introducing them six decades ago.
“We were both freshmen in 1956 at Multnomah College (now Multnomah University) in Oregon,” Jarol recalls in between their mixed doubles matches in the Broward County Convention Center Friday. “I was walking down the hall one day and heard the ‘ping…ping…ping’ and stuck my head in the door. There were 20 guys and one beautiful babe. And I married her!”
Leah says the reason she chose Jarol is that he is a good loser. “Some guys would never come back or talk to me after I beat them.”
Ping pong was put aside for 25 years while the couple got busy with life. When they could look again at their pursuing their own passion again, they bought a table in Iowa City but soon discovered there wasn’t room in either of the houses they owned. The solution was obvious to them.
“We ended up selling both of the houses we owned and built a new house around a table tennis court.”
“Yeah, we told the contractor we wanted to start the design with the basement, which he said he had never heard of before,” Jarol says with a chuckle. “ I wanted a room to be 20 feet wide, 30 feet long, ten feet high with no posts anywhere and lots of lights. And I wanted a heated concrete floor with wood over it!”
The couple now have two tables in their emporium and invite people to come play and socialize every Wednesday night, and many come from the University of Iowa. “We volunteer with the Friends of International Students program at the university and enjoy having people from all over the world in our home.” The couple placed a world map on one wall and ask any visitors born outside of the U.S. to put a pin on the map with their name.
“It’s probably more than 300 pins now,” Jarol says. “We had so many from China we had to put up another map and now that one’s getting full!”
The enthusiasts even helped start a university table tennis team eight years ago that went to the national collegiate championships. “But it takes leadership and the best leaders graduated so it will have to be started over,” he muses.
Through 63 years of marriage the couple agrees on Jarol’s advice for others: “Do something together. It doesn’t matter what it is. We do that and we have a lot of fun. We feel we are living the dream.”