Tennis/pickleball players shaking off the COVID doldrums

After being cooped up inside waiting for COVID-19 veil to lift off the courts at the Prince George Tennis and Pickleball Club, Larry Furmanczyk is back playing doubles on weekends with his buddies.

It was a long wait for the 67-year-old tennis buff while the club was forced to delay opening its hard-court facility adjacent to the Prince George Golf and Curling Club. Social distancing measures have put the kibosh on most organized team sports but there’s plenty of room to maintain that space on the court and Furmanczyk is relieved he’s able to unleash his slicing kill- shots on the court again.

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“(Not being able to play) was quite stressful because the weather was here, the courts were ready, but we couldn’t jump on,” said Furmanczyk. “The times are kind of really stressful themselves and we need this for our own mental health so we can get back out into the world.”

Furmanczyk, a group facilitator and clinical therapist at Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community and Farm, says the pandemic has brought a societal spike in addictions of all kinds and has also given rise to domestic violence and suicides. He said the mental stresses that lead to such extremes can be lessened if people make the effort to leave their homes to get outside and socialize while taking advantage of the nicer summer weather.

One of his playing partners, Dave Conway, community relations manager for BC Hydro, has been working from home and has been thinking about tennis ever since the snow melted from the courts.

“I’m active and I get out and walk but during the COVID, once things cleared up, I’ve been itching to get back out here,” said Conway, 62. “It’s the social aspect of it, the camaraderie and the comedy, you really miss that socialization. There’s a half-dozen good shots that you make that just keep you coming back.

“We have a group of about 12 guys and everybody’s kind of around the same level. It all depends on who’s having the better day.”

Wayne Yule, a 63-year-old high school teacher, plays table tennis and pickleball during the winter to keep his court skills tuned, but all those activities were shut down for two months when the pandemic was declared. He finally got back on to the tennis court in late May when Conway asked him to meet at the courts at Duchess Park.

“When Dave phoned me, once my wife Cindy knew it was Dave she started cheering,” said Yule. “I won’t say we don’t get along really well, which we do, but she was cheering. ‘Finally, he’s getting out.’ Sometimes, with pickleball and table tennis, I’m playing six times a week, and she’s used to that.”

Yule is also an avid cross-country skier and he got his money’s worth as a Caledonia Nordic Ski Club member at Otway Nordic Centre. The trails opened in December and from mid-March to late-April that was his sole physical activity after all other recreational facilities in the city were closed by COVID.

“That’s one  of the best things about living in Prince George, it was fantastic skiing and I got out 84 times,” he said. “All that sunshine and the new snow that lasted, it was a great season.”

B.C. has fared well in its fight against the virus and was one of the first provinces to flatten the curve. However, the tennis guys agree, we can’t afford a false sense of security.

“It has subsided but we’re not quite over it yet so I’m tentative about it right now,” said Furmanczyk. “But I’m glad we’ve lessened the restrictions a bit now and we’re all being cautious.”

“The risk in British Columbia is really low. I think the provincial health officer and the government have done a great job,” said Conway. “They jumped on it early and we’re seeing the result of the delivery and the consistent messages. British Columbians paid attention to that.

“The numbers have been really low in the north but you just have to assume the virus is here. The best thing for me was getting to hug my grandchild again. It was really nice to hug the family again after 2 ½ months. We’re still being careful.”

The tennis/pickleball courts have been open since June 1st.  While local tournaments are cancelled for the summer the club continues to proceed with its construction project to convert two of its tennis courts into permanent pickleball courts.

Local teaching pro Cory Fleck is back in the swing of conducting tennis lessons and on Saturday he was focusing on sharing his knowledge of the two-handed backhander with Anna and Tassi Halka. The husband-and-wife team, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, moved to Prince George four years ago and have decided this year to take up tennis.

“We played a bit when we were younger and we thought, especially with the whole COVID thing, it’s a social distancing game we’re able to do together and we’ve heard from other people how much fun they have,” said Anna, a 46-year-old mother of three.

“We play at the local school occasionally at Foothills but we wanted to get some professional lessons. Cory is so patient and he’s a really good coach, he explains it so well and he’s a lot of fun. We’ve been wanting to play for a while but we have a four-year-old daughter and now our teenaged boys are looking after her and we are getting to play a bit.”

The pandemic broke out in mid-March, when Prince George was still covered in snow and with people put out of work, encouraged to stay home and limit their interactions, it was hard to avoid becoming house-hatchers.  

“It affects your well-being, it affects your psyche in every way and it’s nice to come out into the sun, even if it’s just for one hour,” said Tassi, a 46-year-old surgeon at UHNBC. “The courts are beautiful here. Lots of people have been telling me about the club, we just never have come around before this.”

Their boys have shown an interest in tennis and have also taken up golf.

“It’s been tough for the teenagers, they’ve been indoors for three months, doing school work, without their friends, it’s been very difficult,” said Anna. “But we all know this is what we have to do to get through it.”


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