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Sometimes in life, lost opportunities can become second chances. Here’s one man’s story.

Tustin, California, resident George Avery, a retired San Bernardino fire chief, was also a very committed tennis player for 30 years. Four years ago, his tennis buddy, Christine McGrath, invited him to try a game called pickleball. Being a very competitive player, he dismissed the small game as silly and a waste of his time.

Fast-forward to June 2019. Recognizing that pickleball was an up-and-coming sport, John Letts, owner of iTennis clubs, asked George, his director of tennis at the time, to learn about pickleball, introducing him to Teri Carter, USAPA Certified Referee Trainer and Coordinator. George and his wife, Rena, went to Bonita Canyon Park in Newport Beach to try it out. Rena was a bit intimidated, but local USAPA Ambassador Tony Bruno made them feel very welcome and turned their experience into the beginning of an obsession for the Averys.

Thanks to the incredible training he received from 5.0 player and coach Mike Fischer and pro player Regina Franco, George himself has gone from a 2.5 beginner to a Head-sponsored player in just four months and spends 4 to 5 hours daily playing. Teri has been instrumental in George’s growth in the USAPA organization as well, having introduced him to high-level USAPA members Don Paben and Mark Peifer. These mentors have enabled George to rise meteorically on the court, but also behind the scenes.

On a trip to a Las Vegas tournament, Melissa McCurley trained him in running the tournament desk, and George kept things running smoothly at the highly successful West Regional. He attributes a large part of that tournament’s success to Referee Coordinators Sandy and Terry Brown. He has also been tapped by West Region Director of Ambassadors Steve Sidwell to run the West Regional in 2020. George is a one-month-new Ambassador for La Habra, under DA Mike Stahl, who says George has done more in a month than others have done in a year.

As if he isn’t busy enough, under Mark’s mentoring, George has completed the first level of referee training, and is on track to become a certified referee. Makes you feel like a slacker, doesn’t it?

George Avery is now the regional director of pickleball for the new division at his club, called iPickle, which provides numerous benefits for members. He calls it “Ritz-Carlton service at Walmart prices.” His home club in La Habra has built eight permanent lighted outdoor courts, which—due to word of mouth and the social media promotion skills of his friends Aaron Donofrio, Chris Gunnell, and Wendy Wimer—are at capacity.

Of his snubbing of pickleball four years ago, George says, “I could kick myself! Imagine where I’d be today.” He adds, “Pickleball is all about community. It’s about knowing, laughing and playing with people, and being able to be competitive yet supportive at the same time. It’s the polar opposite of my previous sports life. I won the lottery!“

He feels blessed to have been thrown into the deep end of things, and to have been taken under the wings of incredible people. The sky’s the limit for this up-and-comer, and pickleball will be the eventual winner.

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