Mike Welter is a pickleball legend in Lee County, Florida. He won the U.S. Open in his age division this year and also took home the crown in the Men’s Doubles Division at the National Senior Games held in Pittsburgh.
However, Welter almost had to quit the game he adores so much after suffering a stroke in 2018.
Mike is completely addicted to the game, and you can find him nearly every morning at Joe Stonis Park in Cape Coral, sporting his shades, bucket hat, and sweatbands.
He absolutely relishes the spirit of competition. However, a pivotal event altered the course of his life five years ago.
“In 2018, I was just up north in Pittsburgh, playing pickleball and visiting relatives, and I woke up and couldn’t walk,” Mike told abc-7.com.
He was swiftly transported to Allegheny General Hospital and admitted into the stroke ward.
“They said you’ve had a massive stroke; they did an MRI on my brain, [and] determined my right corroded artery was 100% blocked,” he said.
The Only Path Forward
Recovery was never explicitly assured by the doctors. Yet, for Mike, it was the only path forward. “For whatever reason, it got better and better every day,” he said.
As a 30-year military veteran, reaching the rank of Colonel, Mike attributes his resilience to decades of rigorous training. “They said I had a strong core base; that’s probably what saved my life and gave me the strength to recover,” he said.
With the unwavering support of family and friends, Mike embarked on a journey to regain his ability to walk. He eventually returned to Southwest Florida, where someone special was waiting for him, his friend Gary Douthat.
Having forged their friendship through pickleball, Gary had stood steadfastly by Mike’s side for an entire year, aiding in his recovery. “For a year, he was there every day to take care of me and take me somewhere,” Mike said.
“I wanted to do something; I wanted to do something for him and the family, and the only thing I knew to do was be there for him,” Douthat said.
Whatever Mike required, Gary was there to lend a helping hand, including facilitating his return to the pickleball court.
“He came over to my house every day for a year and picked me up and got me on the court to start dinking again,” Mike said.
Five Years And Numerous Medals Later
Now, five years and numerous medals later, Mike is preparing for even more tournaments.
“I’m going to play in the Florida State Senior Games in December. That’s the next thing I have planned, and then I will shoot for the U.S. Open next spring, which is here in Naples,” he said.
Mike lives life at a dizzying pace and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The doctors have told me whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. I said pickleball, and they said, ‘you keep playing pickleball,’ so doctor’s orders, I get to keep playing,” he said.”
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