ASHLAND Winning a gold medal is nothing new for Tom Salyer.
The 80-year-old has won more than 20 while playing his favorite sport: ping-pong.
Salyer, a graduate of Morehead State University, started playing table tennis in college. Before that, he didn’t know anything about it.
âI am from Salyersville. They had never seen a ping-pong ball, âhe said.
Some may know him from his years as an educator in the Boyd County school system. Others may know him from his restaurant business with fellow educator Tom Scott: the two owned five Western Steer Steakhouses and seven Tom’s Pizzas in the area. He was also the owner of Tom’s Discount Tobacco until about 10 years ago. It was then that he began to take a serious interest in ping-pong.
When the Kentucky Senior Games arrived in Ashland in 2008, Salyer got involved. Although he didn’t win a medal at the time, we did win his gold and 12 silver medals playing in the Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio games.
He played in the national championships in 2015 and is on track to play in the next national championships, which will be held in Florida next year, as he won gold for table tennis at matches of the Status this year Oct. 2 in Lexington.
He plays in singles and doubles, which he says gives him the chance to win more medals.
“My partner (Tony Albrecht from Portsmouth) is 10 years younger than me so I had to give up and play in that age group but we won,” he said.
The two made it to the game along with two other local players: Dennis Durst of Flatwoods and Win Tun of Ashland.
âThe four of us were in different age groups,â Salyer said. “Each of us got a gold medal.”
Salyer has supported other sports in the area. He played tennis for 45 years and brought the school’s first tennis team to Boyd County High School when he was assistant principal.
Salyer and a handful of others brought pickleball to Ashland about six years ago.
âThere is a correlation between tennis, pickleball and table tennis, especially tennis and pickleball in hand-eye coordination,â he said. âI can spot a person coming out to play pickleball, when I see him petting, if it’s a former tennis player, I can spot them immediately. He will pick it up faster.
Salyer is also responsible for providing an outlet for table tennis players in the region.
âThree other guys and I met Kyova Mall and they gave us a room in the Mall to form Ashland Table Tennis Club,â he said.
At one time, the club numbered nearly 40 members, coming from Greenup and Carter counties in Kentucky and Cabell in West Virginia.
âWe even had a couple from Charleston who came over every now and then,â he said.
The group started meeting about 10 years ago and continued until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mall’s closure. But Salyer had a solution to this problem.
âI turned my basement into a table tennis room,â he said. âThere are only two tables here. We meet at my house Tuesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.
“There aren’t that many people coming out, but we have six to ten at a time.”
It’s a lot of play, but it’s not the only exercise Salyer gets. He said he also does 45 minutes of cardio and weight lifting at the Ashland Area YMCA, all to stay healthy.
âThe main thing is mental and physical exercise,â he said. âThe # 1 thing is that exercise prevents people from getting Alzheimer’s disease and the # 1 sport is ping pong because you have to react quickly and get the ball back quickly. In tennis and basketball, you have time to think. Ping-pong keeps your mind and body sharp.
That’s not all.
âThe friendships you make are lasting. I have several friends that I would never have had without ping pong, âhe said. âIt’s a lot of fun and a lot of challenges and a lot of good people are playing ping pong.â
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