Facebook Twitter

76-year-old LDS pickleball champion shares the most important things in life: faith, family

SHARE 76-year-old LDS pickleball champion shares the most important things in life: faith, family

As a student at Brigham Young University, Dick Johnson was invited to play tennis. Shortly after this invitation, he was called to serve in the bishopric of his ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Although tennis was a passion and a talent, he gave up playing collegiately to devote his time to school and his church calling.

Now 76, Johnson still has never regretted that decision.

He and his wife, Lawana, have always believed “faith and academics should always precede sports.” They have clung to this motto throughout their marriage, especially through Johnson’s success as a 2016 champion in his age group at the Huntsman World Senior Games in the increasingly popular sport called pickleball.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball is “a fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, bandminton and ping-pong.” Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with paddles and a plastic ball with holes.

With 18 medals from the past eight consecutive national and international tournaments he's participated in, Boise athlete Johnson won two gold medals and one silver at the last Huntsman Senior Games. In the 75-79 age group, he won gold in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles and silver in the men’s singles competition.

Johnson started playing pickleball about four years ago, after a major back surgery 25 years ago forced him to quit tennis.

“Pickleball has been like a new light for me," Johnson said in a phone interview. "It was the serving overhand in tennis that was the most painful, but luckily you can serve underhand in pickleball. It has been a great blessing.

"I’m so competitive, and this is a sport I can compete in against the best in the world. It motivates me to exercise, control my diabetes and stay healthy.”

Lawana Johnson said, during the last few years, her husband has won state championships in six different states, including Idaho, along with two regional championships.

“Dick is untouchable," she said. "He has around 100 medals from USAPA tournaments from the last four years, which makes him one of the most medaled players in the fastest growing sport in North America. We started playing pickleball together."

Lawana Johnson said she photographs matches, cheers on her husband and has refereed several national tournaments.

Because the Boise couple has traveled around the country to pickleball tournaments, they have found opportunities to share the gospel with friends and contenders.

“When the Gilbert LDS Temple was built, we took about 30 people through (the open house) who were curious about our religion," said Lawana Johnson, who is a convert to the LDS church. "Also, when we were in Florida after participating in the first Pickleball U.S. Open, we were sitting around a table with some other couples and family history came up."

One of the couples is working on their family history through FamilySearch, she said.

As Dick and Lawana Johnson raised their children — three of whom were high school state tennis champions — to live the gospel, they constantly reminded them of the “faith and academics should always precede sports” motto.

“We raised our daughters when most parents sent their kids across the country to tournaments, which were often held on Sundays," Dick Johnson said. "We emphasized academics and seminary with our kids and they still became state tennis champions without playing on Sunday."

“That’s kind of the way we have always been," he added. "The gospel just comes first in our lives. That’s all there is to it."