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81-Years-Young Lee Mays: Just Keep Playing

His outfit is nondescript: a plain white shirt paired with solid black Under Armour workout pants.

The shoes area a different story.

The shoes are primarily lime green, but have a black heel and a gum sole at the toe. A bright red W – which just happens the match the red racquetball glove on his right hand – makes the brand identifiable. The sneakers have a lot of personality.

As do the shoes’ owner, Lee Mayz.

Clean shaven with a thin build, the 81-year-old racquetball standout-turned-pickleball player is equally adept at a well-placed backhand and a well-placed joke. Watch any match of his and you’ll witness plenty of both.

“Ah, that was out,” Mayz teases an opponent on a shot that was in a by at least a foot.  “But we’ll let you have it.”

The other players in the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA pickleball community love the good-natured banter.

And they love Mayz.

“He’s the glue that keeps us all together,” friend and fellow pickleball player Jan Habay (pronounced Hay-Bee) said. “Truly, when anyone is down and having trouble, when there’s an issue, he’s the guy you go to. He’s calming. He’s smart. He’s been around sports long enough to know how things work.”

FINDING THE TIME

Mayz really loved growing up in Long Island, NY. The problem is lots of other people did, too. Long Island was getting too crowded. Simple things like heading for a day at the nearest beach meant arriving at 7:00 am to find a parking spot.

He moved down south.

Less time in his work commute meant more time to compete.

And, man, does Mayz love to compete.

His warm, endearing disposition and his welcoming, self-depreciating personality should not fool competitors.

“If we’re playing tiddlywinks,” Mayz said, “I’m winning.”

Forty-eight years ago, Mayz joined the YMCA. Originally, it was to compete in volleyball. It was at the YMCA he discovered racquetball.

“I happened to look down at one guy warming up with the racquetball,” Mayz said. “And he said, ‘Are you interested?’ And I said, ‘well, yeah, I don’t care. I’ll do it.’”

Instantly, he was hooked on the sport.

“We played a little bit, and that was it. It was great. It was so fast, good exercise,” Mayz said. “I could play one hour or two hours and it would get the exercise it would take me four hours to get in another sport.”

The more Mayz played, the more he won.

Mayz’s racquetball résumé includes nine state championships and three mid-Atlantic region championships. In doubles, Mays was part of a tandem ranked fourth nationally.

After competing for 35 years, Mayz had trophies by the box loads for handball, racquetball and volleyball. Eventually, Mayz, who volunteers at Augusta Health as an escort, decided to donate the trophies and let them be re-purposed. They were given out to Western State patients for awards.

He only held on to two trophies: his first two state championship plaques. Both hang on a wall.

“They are in a workshop,” Mayz said. “Nobody sees them.”

LEARNING A NEW SPORT

Ever the competitor, it really wasn’t a hard sell for a Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA member named Carl to convince Mayz to try pickleball.

“It’s a different sport, a different challenge,” Mayz said. “And I was meeting different people, which I really liked. When I came to pickleball, it was relaxing for me. I didn’t have to worry about winning. If I went to a (racquetball) tournament, I would have a target on my back, and I enjoyed that. That was part of it.”

Habay believes Mayz’s racquetball expertise has helped him transition quickly into pickleball.

“Lee was very instrumental in teaching us to hit this kind of a ball,” Habay said. “I came from a racquetball background, and so did he. He’s got a great backhand. He knows ball placement. I think his whole life he’s been a good athlete. People who play racquetball have really good reflexes. We just don’t know how to hit a ball over a net.  Lee taught us patience and finesse. No matter how bad you played, he was always the cheerleader saying ‘we’ll get them next time.’”

THE ENEGERGIZER BUNNY

Nearly fifty years after starting competing at the Y, Mayz is still going.

Asked the secret to his longevity, Mayz believes it’s simple if you never stop.

“I just kept doing it,” Mayz said.  “I never stopped.”

And he’s had plenty of circumstances that could have stopped him.

In 2002, Mayz had a hip replacement.

But he came back.

In 2019, he’s had a back surgery and a knee replacement.

But he came back.

Part of his motivation for rehabbing is returning to the competitive sports he enjoys so much.

“If you knew half of it, you’d be amazed that he’s able to do what he’s able to do,” Habay said. “That’s why we call him the Energizer Bunny.”

AT HOME AT THE Y

 If anything has enriched Mayz’s life more than sports, it’s been friendships.

And he’s found both in abundance since joining the YMCA nearly a half century ago.

I just enjoy the Y,” Mayz said. “It’s a place for me to socialize. When I came here, I met so many people. “This is my social outlet.”

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