By John Lauritsen

PAYNESVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) — As we age, we’re all trying to find the Fountain of Youth. In some ways, a Minnesota man has already found it.

As a proud great grandfather, Willie Scheel has no problem taking a drive down memory lane. But even at the age of 92, Willie can only act his age for so long before he ditches the recliner and picks up a ping pong paddle.

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“I thought it would be fun. He’s old. I thought I could beat him but, I couldn’t,” Sandy Clawson, one of Willie’s opponents, said.

It’s a familiar story at the Paynesville Community Ed Center where Willie has become king of the table. He began playing when he was in the Navy in 1945, and his paddle is older than most of his opponents. You only need to ask Willie about how he ended up playing here to learn about his sense of humor.

“When we started here I thought it was a good time to get acquainted with some hot women,” Willie said. “That was mostly the reason.”

His wife of 59 years, Gloria, sees it a little differently. Willie wanted to rediscover his youth, so last fall she helped him put up a sign on the ping pong tables looking for opponents.

“He started getting one, two, three and it worked out really well,” she said.

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And one, two, three — he has beaten them all. Some of those victories have come against players 70 years younger than Willie.

“It’s good exercise,” Willie said. “Your eyes, your brain, your arms, your legs — your whole body gets exercise.”

It’s impressive enough to watch, but even more so when you learn that Willie has had seven bouts with cancer, and won all of those, too. But he has battle scars. Twenty years ago, doctors removed half his larynx because of the disease. While he now speaks just above a whisper, there’s nothing quiet about his game.

“I like to play, win or lose,” Willie said. “If I lose, it’s still fun.”

Willie still plays four nights a week, and still delivers Meals on Wheels to senior citizens — many who are younger than him. Up until last winter, he was still downhill skiing.

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He said his actions speak for themselves, and his key to living a long life is to stay active and have fun.

John Lauritsen