Georgia Billger IS passionate about pickleball
After playing pickleball for three-and-a-half hours at Sports at the Beach’s new indoor courts, Georgia Billger was still eager to talk about her favorite sport. There are few days in a year the 77-year-old isn’t on a pickleball court somewhere on Delmarva. She’s playing a friendly game at Lewes Canalfront Park, competing in a tournament somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic or teaching the game at Lewes School or Plantations.
“You don’t understand how addictive this game is,” said Billger, who regularly plays six days a week.
The spry senior lights up when talking about pickleball, eager to educate anyone unaware of the sport that has created a craze across the country. Billger isn’t a slouch on the court either. With countless regional and state tournament medals under her belt, she has her sights set on the national championships next year in Birmingham, Ala.
Billger is already the defending singles champion, capturing her age-group title in Minneapolis in 2015 after finishing second in Cleveland in 2013.
Just this year, Billger has won gold medals in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. She continued her Phelps-like run this past weekend at the 25th annual Delaware Senior Olympics, winning the women’s 65-69 doubles gold with partner Delia Wan and the 75-79 singles gold.
Billger has always been an athlete. She played field hockey at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. She was also a swimmer, biker and played tennis. Friend and often pickleball competitor Susan Brooker said Billger often tells stories of playing tennis with her brother. On one occasion, she said, they shoveled snow off the court to practice.
“Georgia is one of the most giving and gifted women I know,” Brooker said. “She truly believes in giving back and lives by that credo. In other words, paying it forward long before the saying ever came into being.”
Brooker called Billger an inspiration to younger and older players alike.
“She is gracious, always complimentary and gives helpful advice to better my game … after she wins,” Brooker said.
Just this year, Billger has played as the doubles partner of four different people, including her brother, all in an effort to qualify her friends for the national championship next year. In all cases, they qualified and won the tournament.
Billger started playing pickleball at 69 years old. She previously played volleyball, basketball and softball in the Delaware Senior Olympics. She received the Charlie Marten Memorial Award in 2013 after participating in the Senior Olympics for more than 16 years. This November, she will be the recipient of the Personal Best Award from the National Senior Games Association CEO Marc T. Riker. The award highlights senior athletes who overcome obstacles and challenges, stay motivated and inspire others to pursue healthy and active lifestyles.
“I played volleyball for years. I quit that when I was 75 because I was playing pickleball in the morning then going to rehab,” she said.
Billger had open-heart surgery at 70, then abdominal surgery at 73 – the only two breaks she’s taken.
“When I went to the hospital to have my open-heart surgery they said, ‘You must be the healthiest person in this hospital,’” she said.
Billger moved to Delaware in 1962, just a few months after the infamous Storm of ’62.
“I can remember driving down toward Ocean City and in the state park area the sand was piled up on either side from the plows. It was over our car on both sides of the road,” she said.
Her husband started working as a teacher in the area, while she organized the Rehoboth Cooperative Nursery School until she added two more children to her growing family. She has four kids.
“Then I had my own nursery school at home,” she said.
Over the years, she and her husband rented out cottages, and she worked as a substitute teacher. She also organized field hockey camps in the area.
Despite collecting myriad medals on the court and being a leader in the pickleball community off the court, Billger said, she doesn’t like being singled out, and she’s the first person to point out the accomplishments of others.
“We have so many amazing athletes here,” she said. “They should all get the attention too.”
NSGA Personal Best Featured Athlete – Georgia Billger
OCTOBER 20, 2016 BY ROBYN KIRBY
Heart and Soul – Georgia Billger, 77, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Georgia Billger has a competitive heart. This is evident by watching the senior athlete’s passion on the pickleball court, and from a history of participating in multiple sports going back to her high school and college days in Pennsylvania. At one point, she was the seventh-ranked tennis player in the mid-Atlantic states and selected as a member of the Junior Wightman Cup team, the women’s counterpart to the Junior Davis Cup.
Talking to other athletes, it’s clear she also has a caring heart. “Georgia is one of the most giving and gifted women I know,” says Susan Brooker, the pickleball coordinator for the Delaware Senior Olympics who often plays her. “She truly believes in giving back, in other words, paying it forward long before the saying ever came into being.” Georgia helped start a local pickleball club, and then served as a coordinator for three years after the Delaware state games added it to their sport offerings. Many of the 300+ pickleballers now participating were recruited and coached by her. In her ongoing medal march, she has traveled to other states to help others qualify for the National Senior Games in doubles play.
Georgia also has a strong heart, notwithstanding a family history of heart disease and a close call that resulted in a quadruple bypass at the age of 70. As the following conversation relates, her overall excellent physical health fooled the doctors at first, and helped her rehab and get back on the court. She was also sidelined for abdominal surgery three years later. Once again, her active body helped her bounce back to continue to play and to encourage others to get moving to enjoy better quality of life.