Serving on a mission and in ping pong


What some call a paddle, Ray Prestridge calls a 'bat.' What some call 'ping pong' he calls 'table tennis.' But it might be unwise to argue with Brother Pestridge, who lives in the StillWater 1st Ward, Stillwater Oklahoma Stake, about the details of the game: he's an expert. He won the gold medal for his age group (he's 75) for men's singles and doubles, with his teammate Glendale Markwell, at the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston, Texas. He also won a gold medal in the Huntsman World Senior Games, for his age group, in mixed double competition in Utah with his partner, Essie Faria.

He started playing as a young boy when his father put a net across the middle of his dining room table. The table's non-standard dimensions and high polish limited their play to gentle backhand hits, but it was enough to hook him.

As a teenager, he joined a youth league near his home in Wocester, England, but they didn't win that first year. He and a friend practiced together all summer and the following year, Ray admits that they "did quite well," winning tournaments in both junior singles and doubles play.

It hasn't always been easy to find somebody to play against over the years. While in the Royal Air Force, Brother Prestridge competed in league play but later, when his work as an electronics and computer engineer brought him to the United States, worthy opponents were sometimes scarce. His career in electronics took him back and forth between England and the United States, so during the times of his life when there was no organized competition nearby, he played racquetball. Even now, he drives over an hour each way several times a week to play at the Tulsa Table Tennis Club. Brother Prestridge is one of the first International Table Tennis Federation's certified level-one coaches in the United States.

But it isn't just in competitive tournaments he uses his table tennis abilities.

He joined the Church in 1963. He and his wife, Debbie, settled in Stillwater, Okla., and he commuted to Tinker Air Force Base until he retired. They were called to serve in the Preston England Temple and in the adjacent missionary training center in 2008-2009. One perk for missionaries serving simultaneously with Elder and Sister Pestridge were the freely offered table tennis tips on preparation days.

"I always enjoy teaching someone a new skill," he said. "That was a fun little sidelight of the mission."

Though Ray Pestridge's sights are set on the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio, he hopes to spend more time coaching and sharing his game in the immediate future.

"Table tennis can be very therapeutic," he points out. "I'm 75 and I'm not quite as quick on my feet as I was when I was younger, but my reactions are still very good. I want to share table tennis with as many people as want to learn it."

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