She picked up a medal in an event she didn’t want to play in.
Then, Barbara Walters found herself in a great position to win a gold medal.
Walters, 82, is a retired teacher from Vernon (not the television personality with the same name who turns 88 Sept. 25), competing at the 55+ BC Games in table tennis at Armstrong’s Hassen Arena (and, to the best of Vernon’s Walters’ knowledge, she’s never been called ‘Baba Wawa,’ as the television host was when lampooned by late Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radner).
Walters won bronze Wednesday in mixed doubles with partner Manfred Kronert of Vernon.
“They were originally hoping to play in the recreational division but got moved up to the competitive division,” said sport chairperson John Neilson, who is also coordinator for the Thursday night Halina Table Tennis Group at the Halina Centre in the Vernon Recreation Complex.
“They didn’t want to move up but it motivated them to play against the best and get serious about their game.”
One of the competitors Walters and Kronert lost to was Marta Nykl, 81, from New Westminster. Nykl won her 18th 55+ Games career gold medal in the mixed doubles, which goes along with her 17 World Seniors Games gold in the sport.
Walters ended up being teamed with Nykl for women’s doubles in Armstrong.
“I was looking for a partner, she lost her partner a few months ago I guess, and the authority e-mailed me and said ‘I’m putting you with this lady,’” said Walters in between matches. “I said, ‘well that’s good.’ I didn’t know anybody to be partnered up with.”
Walters is no slouch with a table tennis paddle in her right hand.
She began playing the sport as a teen in her native Sydney, Australia, taking lessons.
“I got far and good enough that I was on the state team to play in the Australian championships,” said Walters. “I wasn’t the top, but I was in the top eight.”
Teaching is what brought her from Australia to Vernon. Requests for teachers, she recalled, went all over the world and she had friends who had already signed up to teach in Golden.
“I applied to Kelowna, to Vernon, to Spallumcheen. Vernon said yes, I got the job and was here in six weeks,” said Walters, who began her career at Beairsto Elementary. She was there for two years and quit, returning back home to Australia for a short while. She came back to Vernon and taught at Okanagan Landing Elementary from 1971 to 1999.
Walters said she hadn’t played table tennis for many years until picking up the sport again while wintering in Arizona at the resort she stays at.
A once former member of the Vernon Table Tennis Club, Walters said she didn’t realize that a new group – Neilson’s Halina Centre Thursday night club – had formed.
“I was going to play pickleball to get exercise when I got home (from Arizona),” said Walters. “The lady who shares a house with me doesn’t really want me playing pickleball so she looked up table tennis, found out there was a club in Vernon. I’ve been playing again since April.”
Walters did play in the B.C. Seniors Games in Trail. The Games in Greater Vernon and Armstrong-Spallumcheen are her first since.
“I’m a little nervous,” she chuckled before heading off to join Nykl for a second match Thursday (they won their first).