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SAN DIEGO — Ken Eng of Vista goes into the Southern California Handball Hall of Fame next month but he almost didn’t live to receive the honor.

What started out as a hobby more than 50 years ago quickly grew into a passion for Eng.

“You just need a ball and gloves and a court and one other person to play and you can play it your whole lifetime,” said Eng.

At 66 years old, that’s exactly what Eng has done. But 10 years ago, the sport nearly killed him after he suffered a heart attack while walking off the court.

“Luckily the gym had a defibrillator and they brought it over and shocked me a couple times,” Eng said. “They said I kind of woke up but I don’t remember any of it. They said I was dead.”

Following open heart surgery, Eng was given less than a one percent chance of surviving. Despite his near-death experience, he returned to handball.

“Handball saved my life,” said Eng. “If I wasn’t playing handball and had a heart attack somewhere else or like driving to work, or walking down the street or at home, I wouldn’t have survived.”

He’s a five-time national champion who has also won numerous local tournaments — accolades that earned the Bakersfield native a spot in the Southern California Handball Hall of Fame.

“I was pretty shocked because I’m not as good as some of the guys,” said Eng. “The other inductees were all pro.”

Eng says he practices three days a week for several hours at a time, adding that one of his favorite parts about the sport is the fact he gets to practice with his friends.

“We get along and go out to lunch after we play a lot,” he said. “Some of my best friends are the players.”

Eng says handball involves a lot of running and training and since his health has improved with no complications, he doesn’t plan to stop playing anytime soon.

“Play as long as I can,” he said. “I figure if I outlast everybody, I’ll win, I’ll beat everybody.”