Table tennis-obsessed retiree travels the globe to become a top-tier player

Sixty-one year old Yellowknife retiree Paul Devitt recently returned home from eastern Europe and is getting ready to go to China, pursuing professional table tennis training.

'Growing up in Yellowknife, certainly the opportunity to be at the top level wasn't there'

Sixty-one year old Yellowknife retiree Paul Devitt recently returned home from eastern Europe and is getting ready to go to China, pursuing professional table tennis training. (CBC)

A Yellowknife table tennis enthusiast is proving it's never too late to follow your dreams.

Sixty-one year old retiree Paul Devitt recently returned home from a professional table tennis training camp in Hungary.

"I really just want to be the best that I can be," Devitt says.

He trained six hours a day to get in shape before travelling to Hungary last month. He spent two weeks at the Hungarian training camp, getting tips from some of Europe's top coaches. 

Growing up in Yellowknife, Devitt played table tennis at school and even won a gold ulu in the 1972 Arctic Winter Games. He retired from the Government of the Northwest Territories two years ago and is now following his dreams of becoming an expert table tennis player. 

Paul Devitt practises with one of his table tennis coaches in Hungary. (submitted by Paul Devitt)

His lifelong passion began when Devitt moved to Yellowknife with his family as a teenager.

"They had a table in the hallway at the Yellowknife public school where the YK1 office is now," he says.

"It would never be allowed today, but every noon [hour] the kids would play so I started playing. I wasn't very good."

Playing against Giant Mine workers 

Devitt and friends began spending a lot of time at the Giant Mine recreation hall where there were two tennis tables.

"The reason we were able to get a little bit better is because there were people working at the mines that were from other countries that played table tennis.

"We had one fellow from Austria who had actually played in the leagues there and been in the top 10 in his country, and we had other players from then-Yugoslavia, Korea, China — Hong Kong primarily."

Devitt says he and his friends would wait hours for the international workers to finish their shifts at the mine and come play.

The gold ulu

In 1972, he had the opportunity to play in the second Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse. Devitt and his doubles partner won gold.

"I certainly aspired to be a lot better, but growing up in Yellowknife, certainly the opportunity to be at the top level wasn't there," Devitt says.

Devitt even credits his table tennis passion for meeting his wife, Corinne. He says a fellow player invited him to the party where he first met her.

Paul Devitt shows off his gold ulu in table tennis from the 1972 Arctic Winter Games as his daughter Allison looks on. (CBC)

The couple now has two children who have inherited Devitt's athleticism but not his obsession with table tennis.

"Right before we went to the Arctic Winter Games, Dad's favourite thing was to pull out his gold ulu, which is in one of his drawers in a little red case, and he would make a point to show us that he has won a gold ulu at the Arctic Winter Games," says Devitt's daughter Allison.

She represented N.W.T. in basketball at the games while she was in high school.

Devitt says his next step is attending another training camp in Shanghai to keep boosting his skills.

"The Chinese are amazing players, just amazing," he says.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.