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BEACON Senior News

Pickleball for all—even wheelchair athletes

Jul 01, 2024 02:51PM ● By Chelley Gardner-Smith
wheelchair pickleball

Steve Hutchcraft and other wheelchair pickleball players compete at the annual tournament. Photo by Pikes Peak Pickleball Association

Pickleball’s popularity is undisputed, with an estimated 8.9 million participants—many of them seniors—in 2023. But should players without disabilities have all the fun? 

Absolutely not—and that’s where wheelchair pickleball comes into play. 

When seated players started showing up at pickleball courts, things got interesting. These players have demonstrated not only their ability to compete well against other seated players but also against standing opponents.

Recommended read: Get your Pickleball game on!

The sport has captivated many, like Steve Hutchcraft, 59, an assistant principal, veteran, husband, father and amputee. Hutchcraft lost his left leg two years ago due to complications from a motorcycle accident, and was convinced his active sports life was over. 

Last year, the 2023 Colorado Open—Pikes Peak or Bust Tournament at Monument Valley Park saw over 325 players from more than 30 cities across 12 states compete. 

However, just a year after his accident, he got involved with Military Adaptive Court Sports (MACS) and the Pikes Peak Pickleball Association (PPPA), dramatically improving his life for the better.

Today, Hutchcraft is a big-time pickleball player frequently striking the perforated ball from his wheelchair—both indoors at Life Time gym and outdoors at Monument Valley Park. He also competes in pickleball tournaments nationwide, along with 10-meter air rifle shooting and indoor rowing. 

Players’ reasons for using a wheelchair vary widely, but what unites them is their passion for the game, which combines aspects of tennis, badminton and ping pong. The rules are much the same whether sitting or standing, with one notable exception for wheelchair players: the ball may bounce twice. 

“The two-bounce rule is one of the ways we can be competitive with able-bodied players. We use it when we play each other as well,” Hutchcraft said. 

But if players can hit the ball with just one bounce or volley it, they do. 

“It’s all about awareness and inclusivity,” said Hutchcraft, after a quick game at Monument Valley Park. “It doesn’t matter your skill level. Pickleball is an awesome avenue for numerous possibilities.”

As a trained amputee mentor, Hutchcraft offers encouragement to individuals of any age and gender, whether military or civilian, who have lost a limb or are living with other disabilities. 

“Most of what happens after losing a limb is, you say, what’s next? Then you realize that it just takes getting up and doing it. When my leg was removed, I thought, my life is sort of over. But then I said to myself, ‘There’s a lot that I can still do!’”

When Hutchcraft first started playing pickleball, he was the only one on the court in a wheelchair. 

“Although most everyone was kind and considerate, I could tell they were not very excited to have me as their partner. Now, after learning the sport and playing for a while, I can keep up with the best of my skill level, and my partners are happy to play with me,” he said.


One of Hutchcraft’s friends, who suffered a traumatic brain injury that impaired his ability to walk and speak, began playing pickleball and saw improvements in every aspect of his life. 

Another friend started playing pickleball while using a walker. Initially, she could only manage five minutes at a time, but eventually, she was able to stop using the walker altogether. 

Steve Hutchcraft smiles with his medal from the 2023 Colorado Open Pikes Peak or Bust Tournament.

“The health benefits one gains from pickleball are amazing,” Hutchcraft said. “There is the mental component, brain stimulation, body movement and hand-eye coordination. You don’t realize that you’re doing therapy by playing the sport, but you are!” 

Mick Tingstrom, 56, together with his father, Ray Tingstrom, 81, facilitates weekly MACS-sponsored pickleball sessions for veterans from all branches, catering to both disabled and ambulatory individuals and their families. 

Mick is an advanced pickleball player and professionally certified instructor who served 27 years in the Army. After retiring, he worked at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and currently, for the Department of Homeland Security. 

Ray, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Army Reserves and National Guard, plays despite several joint replacements. Together, they provide an environment that fosters an understanding of military life, friendship, fitness and holistic health.

Although the MACS pickleball clinic is for all veterans, much of Mick’s energy and attention is focused on broadening the wheelchair athlete’s participation in the sport. 


The first U.S. pickleball tournament with a wheelchair division took place in 2019, and Mick got involved shortly after. 

He discovered that wheelchair pickleball players rarely have the chance to compete in a tournament outside of Florida, and then only once a year. He set out to expand these opportunities by organizing a similar event in Colorado Springs.

“I approached the PPPA last year to ask if they could be the first in Colorado to offer a wheelchair pickleball competition,” he said.

Fortunately, the pickleball powers-that-be in Colorado Springs were open to the idea—enthusiastic, even.

“Joe Johnson, the PPPA president, and the entire team rolled out the red carpet and they pretty much said, ‘You tell us what you want, and we will make it happen!’” said Mick.

Last year, the 2023 Colorado Open—Pikes Peak or Bust Tournament at Monument Valley Park saw over 325 players from more than 30 cities across 12 states compete. This regional tournament included 12 wheelchair players from six Colorado cities, marking a significant step in promoting adaptive play. The event generated considerable excitement among players, referees, tournament staff and fans.

This year, the PPPA aims to attract over 400 participants. The senior division will cater to ages 50 to 80+. Building on the success of last year’s wheelchair division, the PPPA hopes to double the number of wheelchair competitors. 

The tournament will feature wheelchair singles, doubles and hybrid doubles (one standing player and one seated player). 

Attending the tournament is a great way to see what the pickleball buzz is all about. 

Hutchcraft urged seniors of all abilities to pick up a paddle and experience the rush of pickleball first-hand with a friendly challenge:

“Get off the couch and out of the house!”

2024 Colorado Open—Pikes Peak or Bust Tournament

August 2-4
Monument Valley Park
170 W Cache La Poudre St.
[email protected]

Host a Wheelchair Athlete
As wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms near the tournament venue are limited, the PPPA seeks local hosts August 1-4. Some players are ambulatory, so both regular and wheelchair-accessible bedrooms and bathrooms are needed.

Contact Chip Parmelly, USWPA president, at 214-686-2136 or at [email protected]

Wheelchair Pickleball Resources

Pikes Peak Pickleball Association (PPPA)

US Senior Pickleball (USSP)

Military Adaptive Court Sports (MACS) Pickleball Clinic
(For veterans and family members)
Wednesdays, 2-4 p.m.
Life Time, 4410 Royal Pine Drive
[email protected]

US Wheelchair Pickleball Association (USWPA)
This new 501(c)3 nonprofit promotes wheelchair pickleball inclusivity nationwide, with the goal of debuting it at the 2028 Paralympic Games.

For questions or concerns about amputation, email Steve Hutchcraft at: [email protected]