Marion Lisehora never hesitates to jump at a chance to try something new, whether it is basketball, volleyball, softball, track and field, swimming, gymnastics…or diving off a 40-foot platform into a tank of water on the back of a horse.
Marion is 85 and has no plans to slow down. She is coming to Birmingham to compete in pickleball at the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana, where she hopes to add to her collection of 300 medals. She has been in The Games since 1993, but entered her first pickleball event in 2015 in Minneapolis, where she won a bronze in women’s doubles.
“I love the game,” says the resident of Millsboro, Delaware. “I’m addicted! I play 20 hours a week, sometimes twice a day. Wave that little red flag in front of me, and I’m gone.”
Marion says she was one of the few lucky women of her pre-Title IX generation who had the opportunity to compete in team sports, such as basketball, as a high school student in Rockville, Maryland. She was surprised and disappointed when she couldn’t find a similar athletic outlet in college. The need for physical activity led her to her to join a Gymkana Troupe, which introduced her to gymnastics, and to her late husband Tony.
When Tony and a friend decided to check out a diving competition in Atlantic City, she tagged along for fun. As a result of that trip, Marion was asked to become a jockey at the horse diving show on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. She spent the next four summers leaping off a 40-foot tower into a tank of water while sitting on the back of her horse named Dimah.
Most of us could never contemplate making such a dive, but Marion discusses it matter-of-factly. She performed her first show without a single practice dive, which she says was a bit scary but it all quickly became routine. “I did it seven days a week with four or five shows a day, so it became automatic,” she says. “It was just something you did.”
The former physical education teacher’s tone changes to one of passion and excitement when she talks about the decades she has spent competing, training, creating local sports leagues and teaching others the benefits of making good health a priority.
Marion says sports has taught her bigger life lessons that she has tried to instill in others. She sometimes runs into former students who were part of a Gymkana Troupe she started while working as a teacher. “Those kids…it almost makes me cry because they all remember that troupe,” she says. “It is one of the biggest thrills of my life. I hope I have been a positive influence on the young people I taught. It’s more than kicking a ball. I want to teach about life and responsibility, teamwork and caring about others. That’s what’s important.”
She speaks with pride about the academic and athletic successes of her own five children and grandchildren. She notes that all 14 grandchildren will graduate from college and all excelled at a variety of sports, just as her children did. Her daughter Diane is also a pickleball player and is a Senior Games participant. Marion and her daughter discovered pickleball together about six years ago and still share a passion for it.
“I had no racquet sport experience,” she recalled. “I played sports all my life and had good eye/hand coordination, but I could not hit a backhand the first time I tried pickleball. That was my motivation. I was going to beat that! I couldn’t wait for the next week to work on my backhand. I was caught up in it immediately. Now I have a really good backhand, and I love the game.”
She is grateful for the fact that she has enjoyed excellent health, which she attributes to a life of letting common sense be her guide.
“I have never dieted and never will-everything in moderation,” she asserts. “I never smoked or drank. I do drink lots of water and try to eat things that are healthy like fruits and vegetables, but I don’t count calories, and I do treat myself from time to time. I’ve always been a big believer in exercise, but not in terms of sit-ups and pushups. I want to get exercise in doing something that is fun. If it’s not fun, it’s hard to get motivated. Pickleball is fun!”
She encourages young people to learn and stick with healthier behaviors and stay active all their lives.
“Fit it in, make it a priority, and make it fun,” she says. “It is one of the most important things you can do. Stick with it, it’s a lifetime thing. So many people just sit on the couch when they retire because they think it is time to rest, but inactivity will take your life early. You have to keep going. I feel about the best I ever have.”
Marion says she enjoys competing at the Games because of the camaraderie and fun and the opportunity to compete with those in her age group. “I thrive on competition, and I want to play with people who are the best of the best,” she says.
And is she looking for a new adventure or sport to add to her long list?
“If it shows up, I’ll be ready to do it,” she says with a chuckle.