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FROM PRIZE TO PASSION

After 75 years, Forest Wiley still loves to play tennis.

Growing up in a poor family in Brightmoor, Mich., Forest Wiley didn't have much to do as a child. So by the time he was 10 years old, Wiley landed his first job - delivering issues of Liberty magazine.

His work ethic soon paid off for young Forest, who won the magazine's annual selling contest. He was the top seller of the then-5-cent publication.

Little did Wiley know, the tennis racket he won that day would ignite passion for a sport he continues to play 75 years later.

"The racket, I still remember it," Wiley recalled. "It was not very shiny or brand new, but it was mine, and, boy, did I love it. I'd sit there and just play with the strings, waiting day in and day out for a chance to use."

Wiley, an 85-year-old resident of Timber Pines, was seeded as high as 15th among 85-year-old singles players on the United States Tennis Association Web site.

He loves to be outdoors. His hobbies include golf, bowling, pool and tennis. Tennis, however, is more than a hobby; it is a passion.

As a young boy, Wiley taught himself the game. He would spend hours at Stopel Park, about 2 or 3 miles from where he lived in the Detroit suburbs. He watched the residents play on the six courts available and took every chance to get some playing time.

This practice and self-teaching earned Wiley a spot on the high school tennis team, where, for the first time, he had someone to teach him.

To this day, he uses the advice he learned about using good form, short fierce strokes and a good grip.

"In order to be the best I can at my age," Wiley said, "I usually spend two or three days a week practicing and just working fundamentals. Those fundamentals are the keys to victory."

After high school, Wiley served in World War II and spent his downtime overseas playing tennis.

"In North Africa they had grass courts, which takes a lot more skill and are good to practice on," Wiley said.

Upon returning to the States, Wiley met his wife, Helen. They have been married for more than 20 years, and both of them play tennis two to four times a week at the community courts. Wiley still plays even though he has just one kidney, a stent in his heart and a pacemaker.

But Wiley attributes his good health to his outdoor-loving lifestyle and his healthy habits. He exercises daily and can usually be found around the tennis courts giving lessons to the "young fellas."

"I love the game," Wiley said, "It's plain and simple. I love to go out and compete and hopefully win. If not, I'll get them next time. I guess I'm just a guy who turned a prize into a passion."

Submit story ideas and feedback to communitysports@tampabay.com or call Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas at (352) 544-09480.

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