Local tennis duo win national gold at Senior Games in Kamloops

·3 min read

If you want your feel-good come-from-behind sports story, here you go.

Midland resident Earl Backman, 75, and his 80-year-old partner John Dubeau from Penetanguishene, both claimed the gold medal victory in the 75-plus bracket of men’s doubles tennis at the Kamloops 2022 Canada 55+ Games recently. Over 2,700 participants competed in 26 sports at the event.

Their backgrounds are interesting.

John Dubeau and his brother Brian have created a name for themselves with tennis in the area over the years. Backman had a history with baseball throughout his life, and only transitioned into tennis 12 years ago when fellow residents in his Arizona complex brought him across to the tennis courts, where through bloodied knees and elbows, he discovered he liked playing the sport.

In a rotating group of players in Penetanguishene, Backman found himself facing off against Dubeau and matching his level on more than one occasion. Brother Brian encouraged Backman to join John following a 2016 playoff match in Midland. The two paired to win at the Ontario Seniors Games Association in 2018, qualifying to represent the province in a pandemic-delayed Canada 55+ Games tournament held in late August.

“I’m so proud of Johnny for surviving because he has heart issues, and it was damn hot in Kamloops,” said Backman.

Temperatures in the final week of August ranged between 33 and 35 degrees Celsius on the days they played.

“I have so many injuries and missing parts due to baseball injuries that my game is quite unconventional,” Backman added with a laugh.

Earl thanked his partner, as well as their wives of over 50 years Candace Backman and Beth Dubeau, for enduring their endeavours.

The trip wasn’t an easy one, as airport difficulties and pandemic caution caused many seniors east of Ontario opting not to participate in the games. Backman and Dubeau split for the journey, with the Backmans ultimately detouring through altered routes to arrive on game day.

“I had an added problem in that I have a kidney stone that decided to relocate starting Tuesday night, and that is extremely painful,” Backman shared with a laugh.

“Johnny and I are perseverance-types. My shoulder is missing the top, so I can’t hit like a rocket; I play a defensive game and a placement game. Johnny is a surgeon with a racket that he can do the chops and cuts."

Through the struggles to arrive, the overbearing temperatures and the various pains involved, Backman and Dubeau systematically approached each game with their impressive styles.

“One match we were down the proverbial 5-2, and had to persevere to win that 7-5. Another went over two hours in the heat and a three-set tiebreaker, and we finally won that.

“We are not overpowering, we’re just down-to-earth and never give up,” Backman admitted.

Backman is an advocate for municipalities providing recreational facilities to prospective visitors looking for an area to move into. As part of the local pickleball groups – another sport he had taken up and won gold within Arizona – Backman was proud to see the local courts of Penetanguishene and Midland being renovated to accommodate pickleball and tennis players.

As words for inspiration, Backman encouraged people to take up interests and passions they might not have been able to enjoy within their lives.

“You do things later in life that you couldn’t do when you were working,” he stated. “We have a terrific area here; we think this is a gold spot in Canada.”

Next week, Backman will travel to Tuczon, Arizona once again for the United States Tennis Association, participating in the USTA Southwest League Championships in the Adult 55 & Over sectionals.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca