Jim Siegel, 75
You must have passion to stay with a sport. That passion can be about the need for competition, being socially connected with others with the same interest, or it can be as basic as enjoying an activity for what it does for your health and wellness.
“Without passion you will never get as high as you can go,” Jim Siegel says. “And if you don’t enjoy it you won’t get very good and won’t stay with it.”
Jim’s passion for tennis borders on obsession. A fun obsession. It’s not that he doesn’t dote on his family and have other interests, but he has been playing tennis his entire life and is just as excited to hit the court now as at any time. How deep did the sport became ingrained in Jim? “When I was younger my wife Mary observed me several times swatting at a ball in my sleep. Kinda scared her, but I was dreaming about tennis!”
Jim’s father played tennis and set the serve by sending Jim and his brother to take lessons and play tennis every day in the summer when he was 13. The coach remarked that Jim had potential and should get private lessons. “I played this one kid who beat me every day that summer. I finally beat him in the finals and he went home crying,” he says with a chuckle.
Jim excelled in high school and walked onto the tennis team at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “Everybody on the varsity team was on full scholarship,” he recalls. “The coach had the rest of us scrubs on his ‘rainbow squad’ and didn’t know anything about me. Then I played Pug Shane, who was the Illinois state champion on the team, and beat him in three straight sets. I made the team that day.”
Tennis stayed with Jim as a player, and he was hired to coach the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus for two years before joining in his father’s business. The obsession continued and Jim became a proven competitor and leader with an infectious, positive attitude, and he was captain of many summer teams for US Tennis Association (USTA) state and regional tournaments through the years.
When he turned 50, Jim blended in time to enter Wisconsin Senior Olympics and has since competed in ten National Senior Games since 1999. He hasn’t come home empty-handed yet, earning 14 medals including eight gold. He was also honored with induction in the Wisconsin Senior Olympics Hall of Fame this year for his accomplishments.
Jim’s gregarious personality has created many tennis relationships, none more important than his longtime doubles partners Ralph Felton and Sherry Ploor. “I pretty much brought Ralph into the game over 50 years ago. He played some high school tennis and we started playing every week and he really improved,” he says. “Sherry and I have been playing together since our 35 age group. We had never lost at National Senior Games until this year when we won a bronze medal, which only stoked the fire. We hope to draw the same team again next year.”
Jim and Ralph also have a special reason to play in the City of Champions next summer. “Ralph injured himself and couldn’t go when Nationals were in Pittsburgh in ’05,” he says. “But Ralph’s sister lives in Pittsburgh and Sherry says it’s one of her favorite towns, so I’m excited to go there.”
Thinking about his good fortune, Jim laughs and adds, “Maybe I’m not that good and I just pick good partners!”
Tennis really means life to Jim because of his excellent health with only the expected sports-related injuries to overcome during his journey. “No one in Dad’s family of 11 made it to be 70. I’m 75 now and everyone comments about how good my health is. I have no doubt it’s because of the tennis.”
Will he ever retire? “Maybe I’ll quit at 115,” he says with a laugh. “Even if my level goes down there’s always someone you can play. I’ll probably go down on the court, which my wife hates me to say. But that’s a good way to go!”