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Pickleball great fun and easier on body

By on January 7, 2016 in Articles, Health, Sports & Recreation with 4 Comments

Pickleball is played on a smaller court than a tennis, with players using paddles and a wiffle ball.

By Dr. Jim Brown

I have always enjoyed sports where I had to hit a ball with a racquet or a paddle.

I played some tennis in my high school years at a city park, in college I played some intramural squash, and in medical school at about 10 p.m. many of us gathered for impromptu ping pong tournaments in our dormitory.

After moving to Wenatchee I took up racquetball at the YMCA and got hooked on it. For the next 20 or so years, I was obsessed with racquetball, playing five times a week and entering tournaments locally and around the state.

After about 15 years I started having right shoulder issues. I played in a city tournament and then in the next two weeks, a state tournament, playing with the help of naprosyn (Aleve). An orthopedist told me that I might need surgery, but after these tournaments, I quit playing for a couple of weeks, and my shoulder felt fine.

I tried to play one more time, but the pain returned so I decided to quit racquetball rather than have surgery.

About 10 years later I started playing tennis again and really enjoyed it. I played for many years. About nine months ago I started having right arm and shoulder pains day and night, and after seeing a neurologist and an orthopedist, it seemed like surgery might become an option, but I wasn’t enthused about that either.

So I quit tennis for a while, and my shoulder improved considerably.

A friend of mine invited me to try pickleball that was being played in the Eastmont Community Park five days a week on tennis courts re-striped for pickleball rules. I started playing, and it wasn’t long until I got the pickleball bug, too.

It is fun and appeals to all ages from high school players, young adults and some older seniors.

The nice thing I like about it is that it can be played with all ages and both sexes. Unlike tennis, where you generally play with players of similar ability usually of the same gender, pickleball mixes it all up, and one gender or age doesn’t dominate.

Unlike tennis there are very few times when an overhead shot is used. The serve is more under hand or side arm. The racquet has to be lower than the wrist on the serve. There aren’t many lobs.

Much of the action is at the net. Players have to stand behind lines that are three feet behind the net on either side.  This requires quick reflexes and accuracy. It is a fast moving game.

Although my right arm, biceps and shoulder still bother me, pickleball doesn’t seem to aggravate the pain much in part because pickleball relies more on one’s wrist.

In Wenatchee, Russell Bryan is really the pickleball “Godfather,” as its organizer, pickleball mover and shaker. He keeps everyone up to date on happenings. Just recently, through his efforts, the NCW Community Foundation gave a grant to permanently convert two tennis courts at Eastmont Park into six pickleball courts that will be ready by spring.

The Wenatchee pickleball group is now playing indoors at night at Sterling Middle School gymnasium.

So what is pickleball anyway and what makes it unique?

It is a fun sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It is played with a paddle and a plastic wiffle ball (a ball with holes in it).

The history of this sport and its connection to Washington State is interesting. It was actually created by then Washington State congressman, Joel Pritchard, on Bainbridge Island. He came home from Washington D.C. in 1965. He and his friend Richard Bell found their families sitting around with little to do.

The Pritchards had an old badminton court on their property but no racquets so they took some ping pong paddles and found a plastic perforated ball and started batting it around over the net. They soon lowered the net to 34 inches, and pickleball was born.

Reportedly, it got its name from their dog Pickles who frequently grabbed the ball and ran off with it. In 1967 they built the first pickleball court in the country on their property.

In 1976 the first pickleball tournament in the world took place in Tukwila, south of Seattle. In 1984 the first composite paddle was invented by Arlen Paranto, a Boeing industrial engineer.

A pickleball court is smaller, 20 by 44 feet compared to 36 by 78 feet for a tennis court.

By 1990 pickleball was being played in all 50 states. In 1997 Joel Pritchard, who had also served as the Washington lieutenant governor, died at 72. He is better known worldwide for the sport he created in his back yard on Bainbridge Island.

Currently this sport is exploding in popularity in part because it appeals to all ages and genders and is a lot of fun.

In my opinion it is an excellent exercise as well. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are 9,863 pickleball courts in North America with an average of 62 new places to play pickleball debuting across the U.S. and Canada each month.

I have been vacationing in Palm Desert recently and have been playing pickleball several mornings a week at Freedom Park, a large popular municipal facility with two dog parks, basketball and volleyball courts, softball fields and children’s playgrounds.

Every morning by 8:30, the eight pickleball courts are filled by not only local players but players from around the U.S. and Canada — snowbirds down here.

When I first went there to play, the first person I met was Buzz Summers. When he found out I was from Wenatchee, he asked me if I knew Ron Zelinski. I told him yes I’ve know him a long time.

Buzz said he was Ron’s tennis coach at the University of Oregon.

Buzz is kind of a pickleball legend down here and he has given me a number of pointers. Great serendipity.

In 2014 the Palm Desert city council decided to permanently convert Freedom Parks’s two tennis courts into eight pickleball courts at a cost of under $20,000. If they had kept the tennis courts and added pickleball courts the cost would have been around $250,000.

It was a wise move as it is a very popular game here. I think we will see the popularity of pickleball increase in our valley once the six new courts are operational in the Eastmont Community Park in the spring.

It is a good sport for keeping fit and enjoying the good life.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.


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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. steve hughes says:

    Hi, we are holding the first international pickleball tournament in the UK at straford-upon-avon to commemorate the 400th birthday of Shakepeare. We would really like for your readers to come over and play. The tournment in between the 21st and 23rd October and we are playing singles and doubles matches. please look on http://www.pickleball.org.uk. We look forward to seeing you there.

  2. Raymond says:

    Pickleball is ideal for all ages and physical capacity., yet in the event that you know where to look you could conceivably end up within the sight of pickle ball sovereignty. Pickleball, the same number of most likely don’t have the foggiest idea, is a racket wear joining badminton, tennis and ping pong into a fun session of any age.

  3. Thank you @dr jim brown for your amazing content. I read so many blog post from the sportsman perspectives but this one is different and I like this cause I never read any from a doctor perspectives. the way he tell the things will definitely motivate lots of people toward sports specially in the pickleball. I also like the game and I’m playing it since last 3 years.

  4. Pickleball is a very funny game. Very Often I play this game with my friends and make some fun.
    Thanks for your amazing content about pickleball. Please keep sharing.

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