Two SWFL pickleball players win championship at National Senior Games

Author: Zach Oliveri
Published: Updated:

Pickleball is more than a sport to Mike Welter. He said the game and the people who play it changed his life.

“I was thirty years active duty. And I just have that competitive spirit in me,” Welter said.

That competitive spirit pushed him to pursue pickleball. Then, five years ago, Welter had a stroke and spent time in a Pittsburgh hospital.

“My whole left side shut down because of my stroke,” Welter recalled. “And the main thing I wanted to do was get home. And I didn’t know if I’d ever play pickleball again.”

But Mike did play again. He even returned to Pittsburgh with his playing partner, George Basista, to compete in the National Senior Games.

“You can stand in the convention center look out the window and I can see helicopters landing on the roof of the hospital, which is how I got there five years ago,” Welter said.

The two didn’t just compete, they dominated.

“I know where he’s going with it, what he’s going to do to it. It’s poetry in motion,” Basista said.

“If I can place the ball where I want to place it, usually the opponent struggles just a hair,” Welter explained. “If they struggle just a hair, he knows how to put it away.”

Basista and Welter won every game on their way to the top of the medal stand as doubles champions for the 70-74 age group.

“It’s what you live for playing any sport,” Basista said.

“When we won the gold medal and he gave me a hug, I thought he was going to break my back,” Welter retold.

“I don’t think I can break the back of a Marine,” Basista laughed.

“It took me a few years,” Welter said regarding his recovery. “I worked hard to get to this point. The culmination was playing with George in the nationals.”

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