LAKEWOOD, Colo. — If you want proof that age is just a number, look no further than 96-year-old Rita Price in Lakewood. Every week, she laces up her sneakers, grabs her paddle and joins her fellow Ridge Pinehurst residents on the pickleball court.
Price draws on talents she’s been honing for decades in amazing (and often hilarious) ways.
“It’s just a great game, and it gets a lot of old people [moving],” Price told Denver7 following a pickleball match. “We had a person that was in a walker come in. I tell people if they’re in a wheelchair, we’ll let it bounce twice. And, you can come and hit. Just to get people out, move their bodies, and you know, stay healthy.”
It’s a congenial group, and they build each other up on the whole. Price is always game to give pointers to newcomers, and a horde of cheering neighbors gather on the sidelines to watch each match.
Make no mistake, though — there is a healthy level of competition at the Ridge Pinehurst Senior Living Facility.
“We talk trash,” Price laughed. “And if new people come on, we help them and, you know, say a few lines.”
It’s not surprising that Price has a knack for pickleball, given her back story. She spent decades on tennis courts, has national championship titles under her belt and was inducted into the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013. Her tennis career has spanned continents. She’s accumulated more than a hundred awards, and countless friendships.
“My tennis buddies — they’re like my family, you know. I get a kick out of my kids, but let’s face it, your contemporary people are the ones that you really get the best time with because they know about your nature and your soul,” Price laughed. “The kids go off and they have their own families and, well, you love them. But my tennis buddies, they’re my soulmates.”
There’s no doubt that every tennis gold medal has prepped Price to be the Ridge Pinehurst pickleball champion. But as a matter of fact, she credits her truest passion as the source of her talents.
“My happy feet, my dancing feet,” she said, pointing down to her laced sneakers. “My joy is my dancing, and music, and theater, and singing.”
Price spent her late teens and twenties as a burlesque dancer, traveling around the country and performing in theaters and jazz halls. Under the stage name Rita York, she honed her craft with no formal training, but as she describes, with the guidance and support of her “burlesque family.” Night after night on stage, she found her footing and the intoxicating thrill of an applauding crowd.
“The most applause I ever got was at a burlesque theater in Philadelphia. It was New Year’s Eve. And the strippers, of course, got applause, and the second strippers. I got a little smattering of applause,” she recalled. “But then, I left the stage — took my bow, and ran off — the stage manager came running up, ‘Get out there, they’re still applauding!’ The reason I got a standing ovation was because all the wives were there with the guys, and they said ‘You applaud the dancer, not the stripper.’ So, that was a fluke.”
Price will turn 97 in June. She credits her time on the stage, her time on the tennis court, and now her time playing pickleball for keeping her sharp and young at heart. All three have a common thread, and that was the advice she wanted to impart.
“It’s the people that I’ve met in my whole life that have lifted me above and beyond,” she said. “Just people, and music, and dance, and the joy of life. And I’m happy to be alive. God, one more year!”