Oak Lawn Park District Tennis Player Proves Tennis is a Sport for Life
Wojciech “Al” Narkiewicz is 94 years old. He has lived an incredible life and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. He can be found regularly playing tennis in the mornings at the Oak Lawn Park District’s Racquet, Fitness & Gymnastics Center (10444 S. Central Ave.). He’s a shining example of why it’s important to remain active and socialize with others, no matter your age, ability, or where you’ve been in life.
Al’s life leading up to his days playing tennis is a storied one. He was born in January of 1929 in Poland. At the early age of 13, he served in the Polish Underground Army providing resistance against the Germans in World War II. He was part of the Warsaw Uprising, a civilian-led, 63-day conflict from August 1-October 2 of 1944 to liberate Warsaw from German occupation.
After that, Al was taken to Germany, where he worked in a labor camp fixing railroad trucks. When the war was over, he stayed in Germany to attend school. He didn’t want to go back to Poland when given the opportunity as it was occupied by Russia. He took advantage of an invitation to the United States to work on a farm in West Virginia. After a year of that, he met up with friends in New York and took a job where he worked for 49 cents per hour, pointing out that Coca-Cola was just 5 cents per can.
Al made his way to Chicago after a year when work dried up in New York. He met up with his buddies from Germany that had also relocated. He lived with four roommates and worked at a manufacturing company on Kedzie before he was drafted into the military for the Korean War. He was drafted into the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper, mentioning that he jumped out of airplanes for something different. He jumped out of airplanes 25 times and described it as “fun.”
Fast forward to 2023. Al is 94 years-old, was married for 46 years until his wife passed away. Al lives in Palos Hills and has one daughter that currently resides in Oak Forest. He remains full of life as he plays tennis multiple times in the mornings throughout the week.
“I started about 29 years ago, something like that. I played with a friend, Marcie. She brought me into tennis. I’ve always been with the early birds,” said Al. “We used to start at 6:00 (am), now we start at 7:00. We started at 7:00 because we want more people to come over, but they don’t want to get up that early (laughs).”
Al does more than just play tennis. He’s an avid dancer. He can be found anywhere from Gaelic Park at their musical luncheon, to his “Swinging Sugar Squares” dance club that meets at the Johnston Center (9400 S. Oak Park Ave.) across from the Oak Lawn Park District Community Pavilion.
“I like it very much here (at Oak Lawn Park District), I’ve been coming here for a long, long time,” said Al. “People are very nice. It’s what keeps me alive to keep moving and socialize a little bit with people.”
One of the perks of being over 90 years-old is that Al gets his membership to the Racquet, Fitness, & Gymnastics Center free of charge. Al is no slouch, either. He plays with people more than half his age and is very competitive.
“If they hit it to me, I’ll hit it back,” said Al. “If they hit it on the side, I just let it go (laughs).”
Deirdre White, the General Manager of the Racquet, Fitness & Gymnastics Center has seen thousands of people come through her facility for birthday parties, gymnastics, gym ninjas, baseball, softball, pickleball, and racquetball. She’s known Al for many years and is appreciative of him using the Oak Lawn Park District.
“Al is always quick with a joke and keeps us all on our toes,” said White. “Seeing him play tennis three days per week inspires me, as well as everyone lucky enough to witness his athletic abilities. The example that at 94, you can still live a very full life.”
One of Al’s regular opponents on the court is former Oak Lawn Park District Executive Director, Maddie Kelly. She continues to remain active and involved with the Park District year-round as she plays tennis and lap swims. She uses her interactions with Al as a reminder of the importance of staying active and why the Oak Lawn Park District is a great outlet for that.
“Al is an inspiration on and off the court,” said Kelly. “When I feel like complaining about my orthopedic issues, I look across the court at Al, who is old enough to be my father, and try to keep my mouth shut. He is phenomenal!”
As for Al, he has no plans on stopping any time soon. If you want to know more about his adventures and keys to living a happy life, you better be ready to talk about it while dancing or playing tennis.