Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Back at the table

Glen Pickelsimer put his family and his career ahead of playing pool for about 25 years. Now he has returned to his passion with focus and dedication.

Work hard. Save your money. Manage your priorities wisely. Someday, you might wind up like Glen Pickelsimer, and that would be a good thing.

We all have passions in life, some more constructive than others. The key to happiness is finding a way to accommodate them -- even the less constructive ones -- without wrecking our lives in the process.

Glen found that way.

Glen's passion is billiards. Has been for half a century. When Glen was a teenager growing up in North Carolina, it was common for him to start shooting pool on a Friday night and not come home until Sunday afternoon. That's how much he loved the game.

Now he's 68 years old, and he probably loves it even more. He spends upwards of 25 hours a week on the game. He competes in three Roanoke Valley leagues. He spends hours practicing on his table at home in Moneta -- bank shots, jump shots, positioning shots. Just last month, he won an international 8-ball competition in Las Vegas, pocketing more than $2,000 in prize money.

So pool's been good to Glen. But only because he knew when to play it.

For about 25 years between the time his passion was kindled and the time his kids left the house, Glen did not play pool. Like anyone with an unquenched passion, he missed it.

"Oh, yes," Glen says. "But I knew if I started back playing then, two things would be lost. Two things would go awry. One, my job. And two, my family. Family's more important than anything else, and it was to me. I'm glad I didn't shoot then."

More than 200 competitors -- representing all 50 states and several foreign countries -- who made the trip to Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend probably wish Glen didn't shoot now. Despite losing his first match, he rallied to win the senior division of the Valley National 8-Ball Association (VNEA) International Championships at the Riviera Hotel, defeating South Carolinian Tony Shelley in the finals.

According to Dan Switzer, the charter holder for the Roanoke chapter of the VNEA, Glen is the first area resident to win a singles 8-ball competition in that event. And Switzer knows how he pulled it off.

"His aim for perfection," said Switzer, who manages State Amusement Co. on Liberty Road. "Just like when he was overseeing those buildings, it's the same way with his pool game. He wants to practice and be on top on the game."

"Those buildings" include the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense. Before he retired in 2003, Glen was a senior vice president for Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern. Among his roles: Project manager for the renovation of The Pentagon, a contract worth $65 million.

Now THAT'S pressure.

Video: Shooting pool with the champ

Video by Chris Zaluski | The Roanoke Times

Not that knocking balls into pockets for money doesn't have its own challenges. But Glen is able to meet them thanks to his preparation.

"You need to be in good shape," Glen says. "I'm an old guy, but I am in pretty good shape. I do a lot of cardio work. I lift weights. I try to stay in shape the best that I can so that I can sustain myself in these matches. That's what it is, mostly -- sustaining your mental focus."

His fellow shooters in the area say that's what sets him apart.

"He works on it," says Jerry Bain, who was playing pool with Glen on a recent evening at AMVETS downtown. "He concentrates. He practices all the time. I've had a pool table in my basement for 35 years, and probably since Christmas, I've played on it twice. He plays on his every day of the week."

Glen doesn't claim to be the best player in the area. He knows there are a lot of solid shooters in the Roanoke Valley. Some have beaten him. In his younger days, some even hustled him -- although he's gotten pretty good as spotting those types now.

"Pool has had a bad reputation for a long time because of the people that played it," Glen says.

"There's a lot of gambling associated with it. But there's a lot of real good people in the Roanoke Valley here that play leagues and don't gamble, that are real straightforward guys. That's what I like about it, too.

"Most of these guys are just clean-cut, average, working citizens that love to play pool and do it for the sport of it."

Still, few do it as well -- or as often -- as Glen. Few have more fun doing it.

In the end, that's the definition of living well.

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