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Keeping fit helped Dave Gunderson beat health problems

Dave Gunderson, a retired Shadle Park High School teacher and coach, continues to play tournament softball. (Dan Pelle)
Dave Gunderson, a retired Shadle Park High School teacher and coach, continues to play tournament softball. (Dan Pelle)

There are those who scoff at the idea of competitive softball over the age of 50. Why, they ask.

Dave Gunderson, who turns 70 this year, knows why and his reasons are many.

“For one, I think it’s wonderful that we can still make our bodies do things that it’s just not supposed to be doing at our age,” the former high school P.E. teacher and wrestling coach at Shadle Park said. “I don’t think guys are supposed to hit home runs when they’re my age, so I love to see them do it.”

Not a bad reason for openers.

Then again, playing the sport into his golden years may well have saved Gunderson’s life.

Gunderson always led an active life.

Even if he didn’t play a sport, he could still coach it. Gunderson talked his way into the job of head tennis coach at the University of Idaho in the mid-1960s despite never having picked up a racket. But he read up on conditioning and drills and the Vandals, who had never fielded a competitive men’s team, won the conference title in the 1965-’66 season.

“They’ve become quite competitive since then, so maybe I helped start something,” Gunderson laughs. “But I’m very proud of that.”

Gunderson was voted Big Sky Conference Men’s Tennis Coach of the Year in 1966, the same year he came to Spokane to begin a teaching and coaching career that lasted until 1992.

Gunderson played semi-pro baseball and started playing softball in 1958. He’s a founding member of the Spokane Senior Men’s Softball League and plays on traveling tournament teams. In his final game at a recent tournament in Reno, Nev., Gunderson had four at-bats, slugging three home runs and a double.

That he’s able to play tournament softball this year is a testament both to medical science and to an active lifestyle. In the past couple of years, Gunderson has survived kidney cancer, pulmonary embolisms and significant issues with blood clotting.

The medical saga started with some repair work on a few body parts showing signs of wear and tear, Gunderson explains.

“I had a bad shoulder, a torn rotator cuff, and they worked on that, but the first thing they did was go in and fix my shin,” he said. “I’d injured my shin three or four years ago and it needed some work, but after they did it, a blood clot broke loose and went into my lungs”

Doctors diagnosed him with deep vein thrombosis, a painful series of blood clots in the veins of his legs. There were three pulmonary embolisms, and each left Gunderson feeling waylaid.

In the process of treating the blood clots, doctors discovered problems with his kidney, with an eventual diagnosis of cancer.

“They took my kidney out in the spring of last year,” Gunderson said. “I was out of the hospital a day or so later and I went home feeling just fine. But about a week, maybe eight days later I started to feel really bad and fortunately I had an appointment to see my cancer doctor. I must have looked pretty bad because they came running out with a wheelchair and with paramedics.

“I remember them standing over me saying that I didn’t have a pulse and they rushed me into Holy Family Hospital.”

It was more problems with blood clots, he learned. For a while Gunderson had a filter installed in his chest to help control the clots.

“They told me that the reason I was able to get through all this was because I had been active for all these years,” he said. “If I’d been just sitting around since I retired, I wouldn’t be here. I’m sure of that.”

Fortunately, that’s all behind him, he says.

“For a while there they weren’t sure I was going to make it out of the hospital,” he said. “I’m still in that 18-month recovery period for all that surgery, but I feel good. I don’t feel 100 percent yet, but I feel good.”

Good enough to be back doing something he loves – encouraging more men over 50, and over 60, to find their way onto softball teams.

“We have an over-50 league that I play in, and we have an over-60 league that I play in as well – you can play in both,” he said. “And we can still sign guys up for either of those leagues. If anyone wants to play, have them give me a call!”

Gunderson’s phone number is (509) 928-7588.

“We have some rainouts that will need to be made up and there’s still a good bit of regular season left,” he said. “Besides, it’s a good chance to make sure you get on a team for next year. And besides, it’s just a lot of fun. I love to play softball and I play every chance I get.”