Never play tennis against a man who pops a nitroglycerin heart pill before a match.
“Sometimes I experience a little irregular rhythm,” my opponent explains, winking as he slips the medicine into his mouth.
Never play tennis against a man who’s survived a stroke, a quadruple bypass, a major vein graft to one leg and angioplasty to the other.
“I guess I’m sort of a refugee from an intensive care unit,” he says, emitting an infectious chuckle from across the net.
Never play tennis against a 75-year-old Spokane grandfather named Ed Keil.
Not unless you’re way better than I.
Keil, a retired Spokane Falls Community College instructor, won the singles crown for his age group last month at the National Indoor Championships in Boise.
Playing against former world-class professionals, the Spokane man entered the tournament an unseeded dark horse and blew the sneakers off of these aged hot shots.
He won five straight matches without dropping a set. Then he placed second in doubles with his partner, Darrell Cusick of Wenatchee.
“It was the thrill of lifetime, to win on that level,” says Keil. “Everything came together for me, like I could do no wrong.” He laughs again. “I think God was with me that weekend.”
But hey, this guy is 31 years my elder.
I play tennis two or three times a week. I should be able to hold my own against this lanky left-hander.
After all, how good can a national champ be at 75?
This is the kind of ruinous thinking that got the South in so much trouble at the Battle of Gettysburg. Except that Gen. Lee did manage one good day.
Taking on Keil at Central Park Racquet Club, I was creamed, waxed, plucked, de-pantsed, fricasseed, disemboweled….
Pick the verb. In under two hours, hacker Doug became another slice of humble pie on the Ed Keil Victims Buffet - 6-2, 6-0, 6-1, so long.
Keil had the answer for any attack I could muster. Slice drop shots. Topspin lobs. Winners down the sidelines….
Tennis is a battle of attrition. It doesn’t matter much that you can hit the ball over the net five times if your opponent can hit it back six times.
Keil’s game is about as polished and error-free as it gets.
And what a gentleman. “Great point,” he would yell after working me all over the court before putting the ball cleanly away. Thanks, Ed.
When the sweat cleared from my eyes, I asked Keil if it felt sweet to so thoroughly thrash a man three decades younger.
“Actually, Doug,” he said, laughing again, “I’ve done it so many times the thrill is sort of gone.”
Losing was never so inspirational.
Watching Keil’s stylish strokes and deft movement demonstrates that if you live right, aging doesn’t have to be so terrifying.
Keil is a lean 6-footer who looks 10 years younger than his age. He walks with the easy stride of an athlete, certainly not a heart patient.
That he came back so strong after so many physical obstacles is a tribute to his superb conditioning, lowfat diet and positive outlook.
Keil fell in love with tennis at age 9. His Dad packed a net in the trunk of the family car so they could play anywhere they went. Today Keil plays four or five times a week and practices regularly.
That’s because Jean, his lovely wife, made him a deal. If Ed takes her dancing once a month he can bat tennis balls all he wants. I’m on her side. Jean, my second-grade teacher, started me on my writing career.
Tournament play toughened Keil. It taught him how to win, but gave him so much more.
“It saved my life, there’s not a doubt in my mind,” he says. “The activity keeps my heart pumping and, you know, for an old guy I still can run pretty good.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo