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Birthday milestone for tennis-playing pensioner

A tennis playing pensioner who first picked up a racquet more than 80 years ago credits the game for helping keep him fit.

It’s a crisp Marlborough morning, 90-year-old Nigel Perry is working on his backhand, playing doubles with mates.

The community stalwart is a regular fixture at the Pollard Park courts.

And despite celebrating his 90th birthday on Monday, the born-and-bred Marlburian has no plans to put down his racquet any time soon.

“I’ll keep playing until I can’t anymore,” he says.

His love affair with tennis has lasted a lifetime, he remembers first hitting the ball over the net, aged 8.

“As a kid, I enjoyed running around,” he says. “I enjoyed being on the courts.”

Tennis stalwart Nigel Perry celebrated a milestone birthday on Monday. Photo: Matt Brown.

Even a life-threating bone marrow disease couldn’t keep him from the sport after contracting osteomyelitis in his left arm at 13.

He spent 9 months in hospital and endured eight surgeries.

“I’m bloody lucky it was my arm, and not my leg,” he says. “It could have gone anywhere.”

The left-handed player was forced to swap his playing arm and plays tennis right-handed to this day.

He joined the Marlborough Tennis Club in 1947 when the courts were on Blenheim’s Kinross St.

In 1953 the courts moved to Pollard Park.

Nigel has vivid memories of matches played there, especially playing for Marlborough vs Nelson in the Lucas Cup, around 1960.

“I played Richard Harris, I can still see that game now, clear as a bell.”

The sprightly nonagenarian, who was once among the best 16 table tennis players in New Zealand, celebrated his milestone birthday with family and friends.

Nigel, a well know figure in the community, was president of the Road Safety Council for more than a decade.

He has been honoured with life memberships at the Table Tennis Association, The Marlborough Tennis Club, Marlborough Tennis Association, Marlborough Veterans Tennis Club, Blenheim Working Mens Club, Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary and Picton Senior Services.

A keen photographer, Nigel say he started photographing with a Baby Brownie and dabbled with writing, penning several articles for the former Seaport News in Picton.

In 1953, Nigel was offered the job as the first photo-finish technician in Marlborough, operating the cameras at the Waterlea Racecourse.

He photographed the races in Blenheim and around the country for 30 years.

“I’ve been bloody lucky, and I’ve had a damn good run. I put the blinds up in the morning and it’s another day, isn’t it?”

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