Get your Pickleball game on!May 19, 2023 01:53PM ● By Marianne Hering
In the fall of 2020, a friend asked if I’d play pickleball with her. Why not? The game was played outside. It was non-contact. And I was ready to do anything to get out of the house.
Within 30 minutes on the court, I was hooked on this odd game, which is like the offspring of a tennis and Ping-Pong union. It was invented in 1965 by three middle-aged dads in Washington state and named after the thrown-together leftover non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races.
Unfortunately, my friend had a job where she traveled, so I only played once a month or so at first. Then I found my tribe.
I met other beginners who wanted to play in early 2022. We women formed a foursome, and by summer I played at least four times a week at various parks, including John Venezia (lighted for nighttime play), Monument Valley or Bear Creek.
Even better, I found a group of early-morning enthusiasts, some of whom were much better than I was.
Pickleball court rules allow a mix-and-match scenario where a player rotates in when there’s an opening. Even though I got creamed, the advanced “picklers” were encouraging and kind.
Perhaps this healthy community vibe is why pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. It grew nearly 40 percent between 2019 and 2021 alone. Now there are a whopping 36.5 million pickleball players in the U.S., according to January 2023 data released by the Association of Pickleball Professionals.
Boredom buster with health benefits
There’s something about chasing that fast-moving, Wiffle-like ball with the perforated polka-dots that wakes up a player’s brain. Before pickleball, I was walking or hiking, getting my 10,000 steps in daily. But I was bored.
Yet when I hear the plink, plink, plink of a pickleball, my heart pounds with excitement. I dream about strategies all night long. I watch YouTube videos by pros to hone my game. My reflexes have improved. My neck is limber from swinging side to side. My peripheral vision is sharper. I can move more quickly and, though I’m not quite ninja-like, I’d like to think I’m sprier.
My husband began to play pickleball with me late last year. In July 2020, he was diagnosed with a vicious blood cancer called multiple myeloma which often results in bone loss. By the time the doctors identified the cancer, rouge plasma cells had eaten away two of his vertebrae, sacrum and hips.
By late 2022, he had completed his back surgery and physical therapy. But the drugs he took left him with neuropathy, and the cancer, a fragile spine.
At first he moved like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” but slowly his lateral movement improved. Recently, we played in a couples’ event at Springs Pickleball where we won only two of six matches. We didn’t even break even, but no one except me knew that he was a champion, a hero for even stepping onto the court. The shadow that cancer cast on our lives has been brightened by a 3-inch plastic yellow ball.
Joe Johnson, 59, also picked up pickleball after a surgery inhibited his movement.
“Pickleball was a welcome addition to my need to be healthy and physically fit,” said Johnson, president of Pikes Peak Pickleball.
He started competitive tennis when he was 9 and his tennis skills transferred to pickleball immediately.
“It’s a natural migration for older tennis players like me, who still desire to enjoy everything that a racquet or paddle sport can offer,” said Johnson.
Western Colorado University in Gunnison conducted a study on pickleball players that reported an average heart rate of 109 beats per minute and 354 calories burned per hour. Like hiking or water aerobics, it’s a great moderate-intensity workout. Cholesterol levels and blood pressure also benefit from regular play.
Because there’s less ground to cover, with the playing area about one-quarter of a tennis court, players don’t necessarily have to be physically fit. Short sprints and the light impact of smacking the plastic ball means it’s easy on the joints.
But the benefits are not only physical. Johnson calls his pickleball friendships “invaluable.”
“The game has deepened relationships with family and friends,” said Mark Hoffman, 62, a pickleball player of eight years.
The Sport that Saved Seniors
“I think pickleball saved the senior community,” said Larry Huegel, 59. “It keeps me doing everything I should be doing—stretching, getting out and getting some sun, and staying active.”
Seniors might’ve made the sport popular, but younger generations are catching on.
Hoffman plays with his wife, son-in-law, daughters and friends of all ages, including some 20 years his senior and 40 years his junior. Last year his son-in-law Jake played with him in the Colorado State Games, and they took the silver medal in their division.
“I can hardly wait until the day I can play the game with my granddaughter!” Hoffman said.
Pickleball is also affordable. While equipment prices vary, you can buy pickleball paddles and balls for less than $40 for a two-player set.
Many pickleball courts are public and therefore free. There are many outdoor courts to play at when the weather’s nice. You can also escape the elements at indoor courts, which may include drop-in or membership fees. Because of the sport’s popularity, both outdoor and indoor court availability is something to consider.
I hope I can play pickleball into my 80s. I’ll never be a great player, but it doesn’t matter because I can get better. The joy is in the pursuit, not the prize.
Thanks to pickleball, my self-confidence at learning new things has skyrocketed—and just in time. After job hunting for three years, I finally landed a position at a great company. Now I’m 60. There will be new software. New everything. But I’m ready because pickleball has readied me for new challenges ahead.
Looking to play?Pikes Peak Pickleball Association has more than 1,000 members who play in Colorado Springs. Free lessons are offered on Saturdays at the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus, 2115 Afton Way. Equipment is provided.
Try these favorite courts
Note that fees, membership and availability vary at each location.
Bear Creek Regional Park • 2230 Argus Blvd.
Bonforte Park • 2323 N. Wahsatch Ave.
Mid Shooks Run Park • 631 E. St. Vrain St.
Fields Park • 114 El Paso Blvd.,Manitou Springs
Portal Park • 3535 N. Hancock Drive
Monument Valley Park • 170 W. Cache La Poudre St.
Venzia Park Briargate • 3555 Briargate Pkwy
780 Vondelpark Drive
Big House Pickleball
3785 Interpark Drive
Colorado Springs Pickleball
1120 Elkton Drive, Suite C
1808 Woodmoor Drive,Monument
4410 Royal Pine Drive
Downtown: 207 N. Nevada Ave.
Briargate: 4025 Family Place
Find a court
If you’re traveling this summer, find one of the more than 38,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the U.S. by using the Pickleball+ app, or enter your ZIP code into Places2Play.org, the USA Pickleball Association’s court locator
Call 719-210-3041 for more information.
Learn more about where to play locally at PikesPeakPickleball.com