By Khevin Barnes
How can this crazy game with a funny name, a silly ball and multitudes of devotees change our lives?
I’m approaching my seventieth year as an active human being – engaged with life, the outdoors, the joys of every sunset here in Vail and the good fortune to be out and about to experience all that is available on any given day.
Since moving to Vail in 2014 however, I’ve been diagnosed with male breast cancer and received a mastectomy to contain it, had double hernia surgery, was in the emergency room with a kidney stone, and had both knees replaced with full titanium implants.
Dead in the water? An old guy, over and done? Not by a long shot. Never underestimate an old man with a paddle.
Along comes this deliciously absurd ball game named after a dog of all things. This game seems to have been spread around the cities and states by word of mouth. It can now be found circling the globe and capturing fans by virtue of its ability to kick start young lives and restart old ones. Its name is Pickleball. And Vail, with over 25% of its population over fifty-five years of age, is attracting more and more spirited adults to the community in search of activities like Pickleball to enhance their lives.
Long before I heard the word “PickleBall” my younger days were filled with action. I was a competitive runner for several decades. I traveled a lot, visiting 50 countries on one continuous backpacking trip in 1989. Movement of one sort or another has always been a welcomed companion in my world. We all enjoy different degrees of activity in our lives but it seems to me that any sort of active life is a well-lived life.
But no matter what our activity level happens to be, one thing is certain for all of us. There comes a point in the evolution of our lives (this is a kind way of describing getting old) when we get our first eye glasses, give up our sports car for a Prius and perhaps trade the tequila shots for a glass of good Merlot or a hot cup of tea. As that begins to happen we can find surprising ways to stay engaged with life in brand new, but no less exciting ways.
I’m officially a senior citizen now and I’ve found that Pickleball offers a chance for us to reunite with our active past. And not in some slow and softened sort of substitute exercise that, like checkers or Bunco, keeps us closer to the ground so we have less distance to fall and hurt ourselves.
By the way, I have absolutely nothing against checkers or Bunco, and if either one of those games had a “dink shot” I’d probably be playing them. For the uninitiated, a “dink” is a short and often effective strategy for getting points in the Pickleball game. There is a zone directly behind the net on both sides which is referred to as the “kitchen”. A player may not enter this zone unless the ball bounces there, making it a difficult shot to return. Indeed, there are some crazy rules in the game making it all the more fun to play.
Vail is host to a number of pickle ball courts and clubs. And Tucson has dozens of public courts available. In the Del Webb community of Rancho del Lago where I live, we have four courts built and a robust group of dedicated players.
Pickle ball is not simply a sport that gets us up and moving, nor an activity that encourages our heart rate to rise up to a brief but healthy aerobic level. You know that level this is somewhat higher than the calorie count in that piece of custard pie we ate for breakfast. The game is a communal event that even with social distancing going on, presents a challenge– no make that an invitation– to find a peppiness that involves many things. It involves you and your body, your sense of humor, and your child-like sense of playfulness; things you’ve never lost, but perhaps just forgot you had.
I laugh more on the pickle ball court than at any other time during my day. I laugh when I step into the “kitchen” by mistake. I laugh when I completely miss my “kill shot” by forgetting to look at the ball. I laugh when I hit my own knee while serving the ball. I really laugh when I forget the score, or who served first, or who served last. I laugh when my partner poaches my shot. I laugh when my opponents get on my case for calling a time out to save the insect that has been crawling across the court. I laugh at the ridiculous text printed on Pickle Ball related shirts and hats that people, including me, actually wear in public. Things like “I DINK RESPONSIBLY” “PICKLEBALL. WHERE TENNIS PLAYERS GO TO DIE” “ O.P.D. = OBSESSIVE PICKLEBALL DISORDER ‘’
It’s a fascinating game designed for any age group here in Vail, but especially suited for the seniors among us who want get outside and get moving. It’s easy to learn, highly engaging and as far as health benefits go, it just may be the “dill of the century”.
Khevin Barnes is a Pickleball junkie living in the Del Webb community of Vail. He’s been found wandering the courts at odd hours while muttering “A day without pickleball wouldn’t kill me. But, why risk it?”
There are more than 15 pickleball facilities in the Tucson area. You can find a list of them at this web address: https://www.globalpickleball.network/pickleball-courts/courts/city/18881-vail-arizona