Get your pickleball game on!Apr 28, 2023 02:41PM ● 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. 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 BENEFITS
Ask any pickleballer why they play and they’ll tell you it’s addictive.
“It’s one of those games where it owns you,” said Larry Huegel, 59. “It calls you and tells you when to go to the courts.”
There’s something about chasing that fast-moving, Wiffle-like ball with the perforated polka-dots that wakes up a player’s brain. 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 spryer.
Peggy Byers has been hooked since her son gave her a pickleball paddle for Mother’s Day eight years ago.
“My husband is a pickleball widower,” joked Byers, 68, who plays at Grand Junction’s Lincoln Park multiple times a week.
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.
Like other racket sports, the game requires coordination and strategy. But 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.
“It’ll help you to stay fit longer where your brain and body are in better shape because of it,” said Joe Egloff, 73.
The benefits of pickleball aren’t just physical. The friendships are invaluable.
“When I retired, I was glad I had my pickleball player friends because up until then, work was my social life,” said Byers.
THE SPORT THAT SAVED SENIORS
Because of our mild weather, pickleball is almost a year-round sport in Western Colorado. In the winter, players flock to indoor courts at Bookcliff Activity Center (Grand Junction), Fruita Community Center, Bill Heddles Recreation Center (Delta) and Montrose Recreation Center.
“Indoor is much harder to play and it’s not quite as fun, but in the winter you have to just grin and bear it,” warned Nicole Bradford, 50.
Along with the fresh air, most players prefer concrete over slick hardwood floors and natural lighting over window glare, said Byers.
Seniors may have made the sport popular, but younger generations are catching on. Because of growing interest in the sport, finding an available court to play on can be challenging at times.
“There are times when they do round-robin play and there can be 40 people waiting to play on the [outdoor Lincoln Park] courts,” said Fruita resident Mandy Oldham, 49.
Montrose 50+ Activities Coordinator Cindy Marino said court availability is an issue there as well.
“It’s something we will continue to look into as the number of players continues to increase,” said Marino.
In Grand Junction, city officials are responding to an overwhelming demand for pickleball courts by transforming the four tennis courts at Lincoln Park into 12 dedicated pickleball courts. Once construction is completed this fall, there will be a total of 20 outdoor pickleball courts at Lincoln Park with LED lights to extend playing times into the evening.
“This community has a thirst for recreation like no city I’ve ever lived in, and thank goodness the leadership of this city recognizes that,” said Jeff Smith, president of the Western Slope Pickleball Club (WSPC).
To keep tennis players happy, crews will add four tennis courts at Canyon View Park.
Egloff and his wife Eileen, along with many members of the pickleball community, are excited about the court expansion.
“Before we moved here, we checked to make sure they had courts. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bothered,” said Eileen, 73.
Huegel and his wife, Megan, also considered the availability of pickleball courts before they relocated to Grand Junction from Las Vegas.
“I think pickleball saved the senior community,” said Huegel. “It keeps me doing everything I should be doing—stretching, getting out and getting some sun, and staying active.”
While equipment prices vary, pickleball paddles and balls can be purchased for less than $40 for a two-player set.
The Pineridge courts in Grand Junction’s Ridges neighborhood are geared toward beginners and low-level players. WSPC and Montrose Rec Center host beginner clinics. Even if you aren’t able to snag a spot, you can find experienced players willing to teach newbies almost anywhere.
“[Pickleball] is easy to learn,” said Egloff. “You can find a place where you can be competitive, have a good time and find someone to play with.”
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?
Western Slope Pickleball Club has 600+ members who play throughout Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade, Parachute, Delta and Montrose. Learn about upcoming clinics and where to play locally at WesternSlopePickleballClub.com
Join Delta CO Pickleball on Facebook to coordinate play times at courts in Delta County.
Find a court while traveling
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
Where to play in Mesa County
Note that fees, schedule and availability vary at each location.
1340 Gunnison Ave. • 970-254-3866
Free to play outdoors, daytime and evening
Winter: Play inside the barn for a drop-in fee
359 Ridges Blvd. • 970-254-3866
Free to play outdoors, daytime only
Palisade Pickleball Courts
567 W. 5th St., Palisade • 970-464-5602
Free to play outdoors
Call Wanda for organized play schedule and lessons: 970-216-6559
Fruita Community Center
324 N Coulson St., Fruita • 970-858-0360
Indoor courts set up Monday through Thursday, from open until early afternoon. Daily admission or membership required.
Bookcliff Activity Center
540 29 1/4 Road. • 970-254-3866
Indoors, winter-only, for a drop-in fee
Where to play in Delta County
Join Delta CO Pickleball on Facebook
Bill Heddles Recreation Center
531 Palmer St., Delta • 970-874-0923
Free to play outdoors (ask the front desk staff for code to courts)
Daily admission required to play indoors ($5 for adults 60+, $5.50 for other adults). Silver Sneakers and Renew Active accepted.
Cedaredge Town Park
West Main & Fourth, Cedaredge • 970-856-3864
Indoor and outdoor courts
Where to play in Montrose County
Schedules and more info at MontroseRec.com
Montrose Recreation Center
16350 Woodgate Road • 970-249-7705
Free to play outdoors; daily admission, punch card or membership required to play indoors
Montrose Recreation offers a two-hour Intro to Pickleball Clinic for $18. Register at the customer service desk.
Paddling a new passion: Pickleball!
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport for seniors, it's fun to play and easy to learn. The courts were crowded even on a sweltering... Read More »