On January 21st in 2019, the comics-character movie, Aquaman had just grossed $1 billion in box office receipts; U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for president; and a newly retired IT tech named Paul Connifey decided to play pickleball outside his Florida condo.
Over the next three years, Aquaman has come and gone. Harris dropped out of the race to become the vice president. And as for Connifey, well, nothing has changed.
He still plays pickleball every day.
A lot of people say they play pickleball “every day.” But Connifey, 55, actually does it. By the end of last month, his daily pickleball habit that started on a January Monday more than three years ago had reached 1,103 straight days.
“I didn’t set out to do it,” he said. “I was about a month in playing every day when I realized it, and people started saying, “You have to keep this going.”
So, he did. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months to years.
Connifey had been a 5.0 tennis player who retired from his government job in Virginia and moved to Florida as a youthful, 50-year-old retiree.
His first project during retirement was to lose weight. So he joined a gym and made a habit of running on a treadmill and an elliptical machine.
He lost the weight, about 50 pounds by his own reckoning. But working out at the gym was more of a chore than something fun.
So, he tried pickleball. He did it, he said, because the pickleball players he saw in his community always seemed to be smiling.
“I quickly realized that I’d rather be playing pickleball than going to the gym,” Connifey said.
When he decided months later to see how many consecutive days he could play pickleball, he defined a day of playing pickleball as playing singles or doubles a minimum of one game to 11 points during a 24-hour period.
“Most days, I play an hour-and-half to two hours,” he said.
As he became more well known among his fellow pickleball players as a kind of pickleball version of Cal Ripkin, Connifey found no shortage of players who wanted to help him keep his streak alive.
“When the weather looked bad, and it was raining, I would say, ‘It looks like the streak is over, it’s raining.’ But somebody would always volunteer and we’d get out and play singles in the pouring rain for 20 minutes,” Connifey said,
Connifey braved all the sweltering, rainy days Florida had to offer, including playing through the aftermath of a tropical storm.
“We set up a net in a pavilion to play,” he said.
Even more daunting is that Connifey has played through an array of injuries.
“I played left handed for nine weeks after I hurt my right elbow,” he said.
He has had planters fasciitis at different times with each foot and says he is nursing a “slight ankle sprain” these days.
But he has no plans of missing any days.
In October, when his streak reached a thousand days, the city of Holly Hill near Daytona Beach recognized him with a proclamation, and he celebrated with his pickleball friends who made him a congratulatory sheet cake to mark the milestone.
At the time, he said, he was looking forward to January, when his streak would reach three years. Now that he has notched that milestone, what’s next?
No goals for now, he said. He said he’s just playing on. And on. And on.
“I’m going to keep playing as long as it’s fun,” he said.