As wind whistled and rain rattled the garage door, a truck bay at Alaska Electric Light and Power transformed into a table tennis oasis earlier this week.
For more than three years, a small group of dedicated table tennis players has gathered, usually twice a week, at AEL&P headquarters to improve their game, get a workout and have fun.
"It's a very addicting game," said Tim McLeod, one of five regulars. "I've always enjoyed volleyball, and table tennis has that same defensive (style). ... And the attack has the same feeling as volleyball."
McLeod is usually joined at the garage by Stanley Zhang, Bob Janes, Phil McMurray and Kelly Kirkpatrick. They have two tables, and can play either one doubles or two singles matches with one player rotating out.
And taking a breather is welcomed, since the group plays at a pace and level that is exhausting.
"If you play for a couple of hours, you're wringing wet," said Janes, who has been playing table tennis since junior high and coaches several local youth players. "You get good exercise."
In October, Janes, McLeod, Zhang and McMurray traveled to St. George, Utah, to compete in the 2003 Huntsman World Senior Games, an event held annually since 1987 and open to those age 50 and older. This year's games featured about 7,000 athletes competing in 20 sports.
Zhang and Janes won a bronze medal for doubles in the age 50-54 division.
"We saw different people, different styles," said Zhang, who has played since his school days in China. "We got to see how people from different countries play."
And they got a taste of cutting-edge table tennis equipment. Some other teams used paddles with special rubber padding that affected the spin of the ball.
"Before the Huntsman tournament, we never considered paddles. We considered our technical skills," Zhang said. "We lost some games because we didn't recognize this new weapon."
But the Juneau contingent opted against using the new paddles, preferring to keep their twice weekly garage gatherings on a level playing field - or table, in their case.
"We just want to have fun and get some exercise," Janes said.
The AEL&P table tennis group does not have space to accommodate additional players, but table tennis tournaments are occasionally held in Juneau in the winter months.
Any events open to the public will be listed in the Empire.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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