Nature + Recreation / The Present

All-star Athletes Reflect on Why Naples is the Best Place to Live a Healthy Life

With year-round warm weather, abundant golf courses, pickleball and tennis courts, Collier County is a beacon for the athletic set.

BY July 1, 2023
Four naples athletes
Enoch Showunmi, Tish Kelly, Brian Shimer and Simone Jardim (Photography by Brian Tietz)

With its plentiful golf courses, tennis courts and beaches, Collier County lends itself to physical activity. For long, the temperate climate and coastal ease lured a mostly retiree population. Increasingly, athletes and those pursuing a healthy lifestyle have taken note.

Runners and cyclists revel in the ubiquitous flat roads, which are easier on the joints. Triathletes appreciate easy access to the Gulf for open-water swims. Pickleball players take pride in Naples hosting the Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships. And, athletes of all stripes find dependable warm weather a motivator to get out and about. Whether amateur, pro or retired, there are plenty of good reasons for sporting enthusiasts to call Naples home. Just ask these four greats.

Enoch Showunmi

Growing up in football-crazed London, Enoch Showunmi dreamed of playing professionally. He got his chance two months before his 22nd birthday, when he signed with Luton Town Football Club. He played pro for 12 years for esteemed clubs, teams and leagues across the U.K. and Nigeria. Years later, he’s helping shape Naples’ future as a soccer community.

After the 41-year-old entrepreneur moved here with his wife in 2019, Enoch became director of Naples United FC, the only professional soccer club in the city, which has a semi-professional team for adults and several youth groups for ages 5 to 19. Around the same time, he launched Global Soccer Pathways, where he mentors young players. And this summer, he introduces MPC Academy, an after-school program that teaches students marketing, branding and industry insights for various fields to help them figure out their education and career paths. “I always felt, growing up and going through school, it’s like, ‘OK, here’s your degree, here’s your qualifications,’ and then ‘Bye! See you later,’” Enoch says. “The main way people learn and the way people grow as individuals is when they go through a course or go through a program and there’s that connection with the leader of that program or the teacher.”

The retired athlete is committed to feeding Naples’ soccer scene, building on the strong enthusiasm for the sport.

During any given Sunday pickup game, he says, there could be up to 200 people showing up to play. And, there are five groups of the recreational Gulf Coast Adult Soccer League in Naples—many of which are at membership capacity. “Over the years, you create a hub within the community and you have events and soccer games with people coming to watch and cheer on their local teams. Especially [a place] as small as this, it can galvanize a community,” Enoch says. He still gets in regular games with the Gulf Coast rec league (“It’s for all us old folks who want to keep playing the game, keep fit, keep running around and have a fun, organized meet,” he says), and you’ll find him weekly at Paradise Sports Complex coaching the youth teams. Enoch often pulls players from Naples United FC to help. Players from the semi-professional team have gone on to play in Uruguay and Israel, giving kids inspiring access to top talent.

He looks forward to a time when star athletes don’t have to leave their hometowns to compete at the highest level. “You don’t have to go to New York or Miami or Orlando,” he says. “You can stay close to family; you can stay close to your roots, where you grew up, that became a big part of your life.”

Tish Kelly

Few individuals have done more to propel cycling in Naples—especially for women—than Tish Kelly. A former tennis player, Tish founded Florida’s first women’s professional cycling team, Goldman Sachs ETFs Racing, eight years ago. Riders try out worldwide for a spot on the team (this year’s athletes hail from as far as Mexico, Israel and the United Kingdom). Until recently, the roster included her 30-year-old daughter, Madison Kelly Brookshire.

Tish turned to cycling 17 years ago when a tennis friend introduced her to the sport, and Tish found racing made her faster on the courts; now cycling is her sole focus. When Tish showed up to her first Naples Velo club ride in 2006, she looked around and wondered, ‘Where are all the women?’ She’s worked ever since to bring more females into the fold. Back then, Tish was one of three women in the group. Now, female riders make up about 50 percent of the entry-level group and 20 percent of Velo’s high-speed rides. Tish rides with all of them: “I’ve told so many women, ‘Come with me … I can show you how to do it.’”

Nine years ago, she invited Madison to ride, which turned into the two of them competing in professional races. Six months later, Tish started gathering investments for a Naples pro team. Working with the team’s director, Ben Renkema, she trains the women—all in their 20s and early 30s—in criterium, or ‘crit’, racing, which emphasizes fast and short rides with tight corners and multiple laps over distance rides. She says Naples’ Pine Ridge neighborhood provides a perfect setting to navigate tight corners and work on aerobic conditioning. With no mountains to coast down, cyclists have to peddle constantly, and the year-round warm weather keeps them consistent.

Tish says crit cycling is a spectator sport. Locals are awed when they see a peloton with eight women peddling shoulder
-to-shoulder at high speeds. “It’s like the NASCAR of bike racing,” she says. “You see them come around like 30 times at high speeds; we’re talking well over 30 mph.” Fittingly, NASCAR is one of the team’s sponsors.

When the women are in town for training, Tish hosts several of them at her house. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. “I don’t make any money off of it.” Her background running in Naples philanthropic circles, since moving to town with her tennis champ ex-husband, Johan Kriek, in 1978, equips Tish to fundraise for the team. She also gets the women involved in the community, participating in local rides to raise awareness for the sport, and works on bike-friendly road legislation with Naples Pathways Coalition.

Now, Tish rides 200 to 300 miles a week. Whether she’s pedaling through Port Royal with her Velo club or racing down main thruways with the women on her racing team as they train for their next meet, the cyclist pushes herself to the limits. “It keeps me in shape and keeps me young as long as I don’t hit the deck,” she says with a laugh. “I’m in better shape than I was when I played tournament tennis when I was 25.”

Brian Shimer

Freezing temperatures and iced-up sledding tracks are not typical concerns for Florida residents. But to Naples native Brian Shimer, these things are second nature.

Growing up in Naples, Brian wrestled and played baseball and football at Naples High School in the 1970s. He says the community’s deep involvement made sports special in those days. A Naples police officer coached his traveling football team, and Brian’s dad coached little league and basketball.

After graduating from Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he played collegiate football, one of his coaches suggested he try out for the Olympic USA bobsled team. He knew little about the sport but enjoyed watching the event on television. After sending in tapes of physical aptitude tests (average bobsledders weigh between 185 to 250 pounds, and exceptional strength and flexibility are crucial for navigating the sled around tight corners), he flew out to Lake Placid, NY, for an in-person athletic test. “Two weeks after that trial, I was on a plane to Germany,” he recalls.

As a bobsledder, the Olympian competed in five games during his 17-year professional athletic career. He’s since coached Team USA men’s and women’s teams and led the men to their first gold in 62 years in 2010. Through his success, Brian, who remains the head coach for the men’s and women’s teams, has always called Naples home. He travels for work months on end—to Europe for the bobsled circuit, to Lake Placid and Colorado Springs, CO, for camps and recruitment events—but his time spent at home with his teenage son, Bodie, and daughter, Brianna, is the most rewarding. During the summer, Bodie, who plays soccer and runs track, often trains with Brian. “I get him in the gym lifting, and he pushes me; I try to keep up with him,” the former Olympian says. 

As he stays active with his kids locally, Brian’s enjoyed watching Naples develop as an athlete’s hub, with more spaces for talent to grow, from better equipment in schools to elite training facilities. “When I was competing earlier on as an athlete, I moved to Atlanta to train at a high-performance facility because we just didn’t have that here in Naples,” he says. “Now we have some of those facilities here that take any level of athlete and train them.”

Brian’s also stayed connected with the community, donating memorabilia to local schools and playing in charity golf tournaments, including Mike Ditka/Jim Hart’s Celebrity Golf Invitational. He gets out with his kids and bikes to the beach for sunsets. “I grew up not really appreciating how fortunate it was to grow up here for me,” Brian says. “I certainly realize, each time I come back, this is truly paradise.”

Simone Jardim

Naples was not yet dubbed the Pickleball Capital of the World when superstar player Simone Jardim moved here in 2016. Back then, there were few permanent courts at East Naples Community Park, where the lauded Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships is hosted in the spring (there are now 64 courts).

The renowned athlete—ranked number one in women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles from 2016 to 2020—transitioned from tennis to pickleball in 2015, around the same time she first visited Naples for a tennis conference as the coach of Michigan State University’s team. On a return visit a year later to compete at the US OPEN, she felt at home in Collier. After braving seven Midwestern winters, she was ready for Florida’s weather, which is more akin to her native Brazil’s. She and her baseballer husband wanted to live where their kids could run free outside.

Simone’s pickleball career thrived in tandem with the sport’s national rise and Naples’ claim as the capital. As Collier County built out more pickleball courts, added the sport to the public school’s curriculum and grew multigenerational interest, Simone was racking up about 100 medals (many of them golds) and a sponsorship deal with Nike. At first, it may have been Naples’ sunny year-round weather, the existing popularity of tennis and the elder demographic’s favoring of pickleball as a lower-impact sport that made the city a natural hub. But, now pickleball presents its own draw. With younger athletes getting into the sport through camps and school programs, older players are now sharing the court with the next generation, bringing families—and the community—together. And, with Simone here to coach the next generation, other impressive players are moving here, too, like No. 3-ranked Catherine Parenteau, who moved to Naples several years ago.

Simone now tours with the Association for Pickleball Professionals, competes in tournaments and plays regularly on the court she built in her home. She continues coaching through the Naples-based Peak Performance Pickleball Academy she founded with her husband. “[Pickleball] is fun to teach, and I feel like I’m still learning as the game changes,” she says.  

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