Handball, golf routine keeps Viera resident fit


Dale Zeigler, a resident of Viera, hopes to do well in the National 3-Wall Handball Tournament this September in Toledo, Ohio.

Jeff Navin

Dale Zeigler’s favorite number nowadays is 75. The Viera resident will turn 75 in November, which makes him eligible to compete in the 75-and-older division in the National 3-Wall Handball Tournament scheduled for Labor Day weekend in Toledo, Ohio.

Zeigler qualified for the prestigious competition when he placed second in the 70 singles and teamed up with Denny Fehr of Stuart to win the 70 doubles in the Florida State 3-Wall Handball Tournament during Memorial Day weekend in Ormond Beach.

“I’ve been to the nationals before, but this time I wanted to put it off until I reached the 75 division,’’ Zeigler said. “The 70-year-old (players) are a little faster and stronger than me at this point. There will be 300 to 400 participants from all over the country in the different divisions. I haven’t had any injuries and I’m in pretty decent shape. At the national level, these guys are really good, but I think that I can give them a good game.’’

Zeigler, who grew up in Joliet, Ill., played handball for the first time while he was a student at the University of Northern Illinois, where he majored in business management. After braving the harsh winters of the Midwest for his whole life, Zeigler accepted a job as a contract specialist for NASA and moved to Florida in 1979.

“I played handball off and on until 1988,’’ said Zeigler, who lived on Merritt Island when he worked for NASA. “Then, I became very serious and started practicing a lot. Up until then, all the guys were beating me. It was practice and practice until I got better. I wasn’t real successful until I turned 60, and that’s when I started winning tournaments.’’

The development of his game could have happened sooner.

“There were 40 guys playing handball two miles away that we didn’t know about,’’ said the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Zeigler. “I’d like to have people who move here and have played handball to contact me. We’re always looking for new players. This is not a sport that you take up in your later years. It takes too long to become good at it. It’s something that you don’t learn overnight.’’

The popularity of racquetball also has whittled the potential pool of handball players.

“Most handball players nowadays are seniors,’’ said Zeigler, who has been married to his wife Margaret for 51 years. “Taking up racquetball is so much easier to play and learn. In handball, you have to use both hands. It takes a while to become comfortable using your off hand. Eye and hand coordination is so important and you have to be ambidextrous. At the top level, you have to use both hands equally as well. The luxury of racquetball is you don’t need to use your off hand. You have the backhand.’’

A perfect day for Zeigler is the unconventional doubleheader of golf in the morning and handball in the afternoon.

“This is an attempt to stay young,’’ Zeigler said. “After a day of both golf and handball, I’ll be in the jacuzzi tonight with a cold beer. I feel lucky to be doing this and I want to try to do this as long as I can. It’s become tougher and tougher to do both sports in the same day. I want to keep doing both until I can’t.’’

The two sports are a study in contrasts, which makes it both fun and frustrating for Zeigler, who lives in a house where his backyard connects to Viera East Golf Club.

“My goal in golf is to shoot my age,’’ Zeigler said. “It’s been my biggest challenge to do well in both sports. I’m not a good golfer, but I have gone from a 22 handicap to a 15. I recently shot 79, so I think I have the potential.’’

The physical attributes which make Zeigler an elite player in handball leave him susceptible to flaws when it comes to maintaining consistency with his golf swing.

“My hands take over in my golf swing,’’ Zeigler said. “It’s almost like they have a mind of their own. I’ve got to slow down. In handball, I’m hustling, pushing myself and running. In golf, I have to settle down and get into a smooth rhythm. Getting my hands to not be active is a challenge.’’

Zeigler, who worked in real estate after retiring from NASA, moved to Viera from Merritt Island in 2000. He and his wife recently became grandparents for the first time. They have three children. Beth is a mental health counselor in Alabama; Todd is an orthopedic surgeon in Boise, Idaho; and Marla is a teacher at Merritt Island Christian School.

Interested handball players can call Zeigler at 321-544-0363 to join his informal group of players.