A journey of reinvention and revitalization

Posted on: April 16, 2019

Jerry Horner Playing PickleballJerry Horner was among the core of teachers who started Rappahannock Community College in 1971. His official role was the Head of Health and Recreation but in the early days, he helped with all the college’s student and social activities.

A gifted athlete and outdoors enthusiast, Horner taught everything from tennis and golf to canoeing and archery to bridge and square dancing. His three-day backpacking excursions and canoe trips down Dragon Run became annual rites for many area residents.

Over the decades, the community college system changed its focus from outdoor physical activities to health-oriented classroom instruction. Horner changed with the times and started sharing his knowledge inside a classroom rather than outside beneath the sun and stars.

In 2009, after 38-years at RCC, Horner retired. The proverbial dream of sitting back on the front porch and idling away the hours lasted about a week with Horner. He wanted to stay vital. To do this, Horner realized, “I had to reinvent myself.” He joined the Northern Neck Family YMCA.

At first, Horner only worked out on the weight machines. He concentrated on his form and as he says, “I was friendly but not social.” Then he saw a sign for pickleball. Curious about a sport he had never taught, Horner signed up and played when the group could get enough people for a match.

Initially, none of the players were very good. Over the years, their inexperience and rudimentary equipment have been replaced by knowledge and the latest high tech gear.  Now, Northern Neck players can hold their own against anyone. 

Horner says, “Pickleball is what I was looking for.” He enjoys the sport’s resemblance to a fast-paced tennis match while appreciating the benefits of playing indoors on a much smaller court.

Pickleball allows him to stay active and provides a social outlet. Although they are competitive on the court, off it, they are all good friends. The group often enjoys meals together and proclaimed their camaraderie with pickleball parties. Some have banded together to travel to pickleball tournaments outside the region. The group seems always ready to test their abilities and gain new friends.

Pickleball also allows Horner to take part in match play. He admits, “I’m still learning. I don’t have to win to enjoy it, but I don’t like to lose either.” Horner plays in most local tournaments and belongs to a Richmond league. He says, “I’m 75 but play in the 40-65 age group. I enjoy the challenge.”

Jerry Horner working out.As Horner spent more time at the Y he started looking for other programs to join in. Overcoming an old misconception that yoga was only for women he tried a class. He now admits, “Yoga is something he should have been doing for years. My knees and back feel so much better.” Horner now advocates for yoga and encourages others, particularly men, to try it. He believes it is not only good for the body but the classes’ energy is revitalizing.

When not at the Y, Horner tends oyster beds and raises bees. He is also planting an assortment of plants to attract the right bugs and insects for a 2-acre pollinating meadow. He says, “I don’t like to see the birds and bees that I grew up with disappear. I’m doing what I can to care for and help the environment.”

Over the decades at RCC, Horner exposed many people to discover the benefits of a healthy and active outdoor life. Now, he helps people learn pickleball and encourages them to take yoga classes. But, he says, “I’m also a student. The Y has given me the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have had the chance to do. I’m not just sitting in a rocking chair.” Horner, offers an observation, “Life is a one-way journey. Pack your ‘bags’ well, be well-rounded, and get the most out of it.”

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