Daily dose of pickleball is Marion’s active retirement tonic

MILLSBORO — Daily arthritis aches and pain are part Marion Copping Lisehora’s morning wake-up call.

“When I get out of bed in the morning everything hurts,” she says. “I am holding onto the door frame, getting around the corner, holding onto the counter in the bathroom to try to get myself over to the john. It takes me two of three minutes after I get up to get the body moving.”

Once her motor is running the 86-year Millsboro woman moves like the Energizer Bunny. She’s on the go every day.

It might volleyball, tuning up for state or national competition.

One day out of the month is reserved for a lunch date rendezvous with a dozen or so retired teachers from her 31-year career as an educator. The group may gather at the Blue Water Grill and Georgia House in Millsboro, eateries in Bethany and Ocean View and beyond. Once there was a ferry trip across Delaware Bay to Cape May, N.J.

Marion Lisehora joins the celebratory fun, gathering with school teacher retirees on Indian River School District’s first day of school to celebrate their retirement and wish students and current teachers good luck.

“We still get together once a month to do lunch,” said Ms. Lisehora.

After Labor Day, she might be part of an early-morning gathering, joining fellow retirees in celebrating the first day of the Indian River School District’s new school year with a show of support for those who haven’t reached retirement. Several of those retirees Ms. Lisehora had as pupils during her days as a physical education teacher at East Millsboro Elementary.

On occasion she does some laps or take a towering dive and dip into her 12-foot deep swimming pool, built by her husband at her Millsboro home near Cupola Park.

This week, she headed to Utah for the Huntsman World Senior Games. “This is my 18th consecutive year I have gone out there primarily for volleyball in the past,” she said. “Then last year I got into pickleball. I am in women’s and mixed doubles in 85 to 89.”

Above all on just about any given day, Marion Lisehora plays pickleball.

“I love it. There is nothing like pickleball,” said Ms. Lisehora.

By nature, Marion Lisehora is a very competitive person. Since she first entered Delaware Senior Olympics, Ms. Lisehora has earned more than 350 medals in her wide world of sports, including track and field, volleyball, swimming and of course pickleball.

Recently, she returned from Birmingham, Alabama with a pair of gold medals — in volleyball and pickleball mixed doubles — at the National Senior Games.

Marion Lisehora wears gold medals she won in volleyball and pickleball at the National Senior Games staged in June in Alabama.

Her husband, Dr. Anthony Tony Lisehora, was a veterinarian. He built and owned both the Georgetown Animal Hospital and Selbyville Animal Hospital. He died in 1987 at age 60 of cancer.

“We had been married 33 ½ years,” said Ms. Lisehora, who has five children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her family is spread across America; Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“My birthday was Sept. 19 and my family and my pickleball friends and everybody under the sun have been celebrating my birthday since the middle of August. My family knows I am obsessed with pickleball. There is nothing that makes me happier than to have them come and go play pickleball. That was the request,” said Ms. Lisehora. “Two of my daughters took me on a cruise to the Bahamas. I got to swim with the dolphins. That was the highlight of my whole trip; swimming with Andy the dolphin.”

Her competitive nature has been passed on genetically. Like mother like daughter, Diane Lisehora Milam is an avid pickleball player who won gold medals in women’s doubles and mixed doubles in September at the Mid-Atlantic Open in Arlington, Va.

“I am very fortunate in that I get to play with people like my daughter who is so much better than I am and the group of people that she plays with all of the time,” Ms. Lisehora said. “I am signed up in two groups at Sports at the Beach for advanced players. I am not advanced, so it get to play against and with better people.”

At the Senior Olympics in 1993, she struck gold in track.

“I did not go down there to play volleyball. I went down to do track. Somewhere along the line I had gotten into running. Not track but 5Ks and 10Ks. I ran religiously before school and longer ones on weekends,” she said. “My running partner, for 12 years we ran 3 ½ miles every morning before school and on weekends we’d try to get one long run of eight or 10 miles. We did that for 12 years.”

As a competitor, she entered the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500-meter events. “I ran all five of them and got gold in all five of them.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” she said. “So, I kind of established a precedent. Every year after I did track and field, and I did all of them. Then a volleyball friend wanted to try some of the field events. I wound up buying myself a shot put, discus and javelin. I also did the long jump and high jump, all of those in addition to runs. One year I did 11 track and field events, and four swimming events.  I was never a competitive swimmer, although I’ve been swimmer all my life. I just did freestyle events. I did all four of the freestyles and got medals in all of them.”

Her life story is one of occasional adventure.

“I should write a book. That’s what everybody tells me,” said Ms. Lisehora.

That’s Marion Copping Lisehora back in the days of the Diving Horse attraction.

For four years she was a featured rider in the Diving Horse at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J. It was one of Atlantic City’s most memorable attractions for several decades, spanning the 1950s to the 70s. Trained horses carrying a rider would dive from heights of 40 to 60 feet into a massive pool.

“I spent the summers 1953-56 there and the calendar year 1957 at AquaFair near Miami,” said Ms. Lisehora, who worked the show while her husband was in veterinarian school.

Then, opportunity knocked and they were off to Miami with the Diving Horse spectacle. Her husband got a string of quarter-horses.

“It was our job to train them to dive. I would be the first one to ride them,” said Ms. Lisehora. “It was interesting down there.”

Her husband’s veterinary practice and parental family ties brought them to Delmarva.

“We were so far away from family; his was in New Jersey and my parents were in Maryland, we thought we’d like to get up this way. My husband applied for a government job, with poultry plants. We lived in Georgetown. He built with his own hands a veterinarian hospital, which is Georgetown Animal Hospital. Then built another animal hospital in Selbyville, with his own hands,” said Ms. Lisehora.

In this week’s People to Meet: Marion Copping Lisehora.

You were raised in a military family?

“My dad was career Navy, an Annapolis graduate. He was stationed in Hawaii when I was born. It wasn’t a state yet. It was a territory. Dad, being a naval officer kept getting transferred all over. Early in my life, it was different places in California and Hawaii. Then when World War II started, his ship was on maneuver between California and Hawaii. We didn’t know if he was at Pearl Harbor. We didn’t know where he was or his ship was. Turned out they were out in the middle of ocean and not at Pearl Harbor. Then they sent him to Massachusetts. We lived in Boston, then in New York state, and a couple other different places.

“Counting pre-school and nursery school, I went to 13 different schools before I graduated from high school. I never got held back, never got put ahead. I graduated from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md.”

You are a proud Maryland Terrapin?

“I am a Terp. I majored in physical education. That’s where I met my husband to be, at the University of Maryland. He was studying to be a veterinarian, He also was a World War II vet.”

How about your teaching career?

“I was 35 when I started. It was when they integration in the schools. East Millsboro had been a black school. My daughter Patty was going to be a sixth grader. They were having a big open house, so as a parent I went out there to see it. I walked into the gym and they had all of the gymnastic equipment set up; brand new equipment, blue and gray mats. Now, at the University of Maryland I had been in the Gymkana troupe which was all gymnastics. In fact, that is where I met my husband on campus in that.”

“So, I was talking to Cecilia Mitchell.  I knew Cecilia, and I was looking at all of this beautiful stuff and I said, ‘Wow, if I ever did teach I would love to have something like this.’ Well, that was it. The next thing you know I was teaching there. That was in the fall of 1966. I taught for 31 years. East Millsboro was always my ‘home’ school. And as they changed schools and grade levels, I’d be at other schools. They built Long Neck; I’d spend half and half. One day a week I’d be out at Gumboro … East Millsboro is my home school.”

Your rather large pool with a towering diving tower is a conversation piece?

“My husband, he built this swimming pool. It is a monster. I maintain it myself except opening and closing it. The guys came to close it — to put the cover on it — and they said it’s the second-biggest one on all of Delmarva.

“This tower we have out here. We used to have a mini-tramp up there but my house insurance people said, ‘No trampoline.” So, now we have a platform out there. This year we didn’t use it all. Every year up until this year I had still been diving off it. One of my goals is to dive off it at least once every summer. Next summer I intend to dive off it.”

Your inspiration for physical education?

“I was very fortunate. When I was in high school at Richard Montgomery, my junior year we had a lady come in — Coach Cockburn. She had been in one of women’s services in World War II. I was very fortunate, over in Montgomery County and the whole state of Maryland back in late 40s right after the war, Maryland had girls’ varsity sports. Most places in the country did not. They did all the way through to state tournament. I played right from the time I was a freshman.  Coach Blackburn came in when I was a junior. She knew sports and she knew discipline. She was my inspiration. I love that woman to death. She coached me in soccer, basketball and softball.  My senior she brought in volleyball. I wanted to be just like her and my desire above everything at that point in time was to be a high school basketball coach. That is what I wanted to be which I never did do.”

Your Terrapin connection to Gymkana?

“Upon arriving (at the University of Maryland) I wanted to know when tryouts were for soccer, field hockey, fall sports tryouts were. People just looked at me, ‘We don’t have varsity sports (for women). I bumped into another PE (physical education) major. She started talking about this Gymkana troupe — a big bed on springs that you could bounce on. And I had seen it on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ I knew what it was from seeing it on TV. I thought I could do that. I was in that for four years there.”

You brought Gymkana to Delmarva?

“After I got teaching as East Millsboro, I formed an elementary sixth-grade Gymkana troupe that I had for 27 years. Every year I had a new group of sixth graders. We’d put on about 14 shows a year. We’d go to all the other elementary schools. We’d do halftime at high school basketball. I had those kids like little soldiers. Marching, everybody knew their job when we had to set up. When we’d do the halftime show it was vaulting. Everybody was assigned to do something. We wanted to be able to do our whole routine and be in and out of there in 10 minutes. It got so we were an attraction when we’d go to the high schools, we were a draw. It was a packed house.”

Marion Lisehora, at age 86, plays pickleball daily.

What’s this racket over pickleball?

“It’s been around 50 some years. I had little paddles when I was teaching, mostly to get kids’ eye/hand coordination. I never played any racquet sports. I taught them a little bit, elementary skills in tennis. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anything about it. I was just never an active participant.”

“Volleyball became my major interest. I was in my 40s when I got interested in volleyball. We had a group of teachers which is now Millsboro Middle School. During an activity period and for some teachers’ planning free time when some PE teachers and other athletically minded faculty would go in the gym and play volleyball. That was my taste of playing real volleyball.”

An exhibition at National Senior Games got you hooked?

“It was Louisville where I first saw an exhibition on a pickleball court. Georgia Billger was playing volleyball on my team. I was out there for volleyball. She had been ranked in junior tennis. We walked through this lobby where they had this thing set up. She was intrigued by it. She picked it up like that. That’s where I saw it first, an exhibition, trying to promote it. When Georgia came back, a couple gals who also played volleyball had been down to Florida. Pickleball is big in Florida. Then Georgia grabbed the bull by horns. She tried to talk volleyball players and other people she knew to play pickleball. I was teaching a senior women’s volleyball class for beginners. I had a conflict so I couldn’t do it. After a year I wasn’t teaching volleyball class. I figured this is another racquet/paddle sport thing. The thing that really got me was as we were playing these little start-up games they would hit to my backhand. I would undercut it. And it was bugging me. I thought, ‘I’m too good of an athlete for this. I want to get back here and work on that.’ I was hooked the very first day.”

“That was the year that I turned 80. It was in the spring. I’ve been playing about 6 ½ years. In the beginning we didn’t have that many opportunities or places to play. We have a lot more now. Now there is somewhere I can go every day and play and I do. Some days I play twice a day. The strategy involved in what they call ‘owning the kitchen’ … I love that when I get one that I can slam. This little old lady doesn’t have a whole lot of power but when I get one of those up that close I can slam it. I love the soft game.”

Any advice to staying active and fit?

“You mean, my secret sauce? Well, you just have to keep going. I think that is probably what I would tell most people: Never stop. Because once you stop you’re not going to get yourself up and going again. You just cannot stop and I am not going to stop.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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