Sunday, December 16, 2018

More Than Just a Sport, Pickleball Impacts Lives


Photos by Jodi Pree | Kory Kelly recovers after chasing down a deep ball as Susan Henderson focuses on the next shot.

Not only is pickleball is a sport that all ages can play, it doesn’t require a major investment, is easy to learn, and provides a social outlet. For some, the benefits of pickleball are priceless, as it offers healing for those struggling with difficult, personal issues.

I am one of those players who is benefiting from the healing. To be perfectly honest, as I made the commitment to compete in this year’s Open, I was apprehensive, to say the least. Due to personal struggles, I have been lacking the energy, focus, and intensity required to prepare, compete, and medal. This year, however, I was determined to simply put myself out there again, hoping to recapture my love for competition; and although my joy for competition has taken a beating, my love for the players who have become part of my pickleball family has grown in abundance. Determined, I completely immersed myself with the weeklong schedule of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, competing in 4.0 singles, promoting pickleball as a USAPA ambassador, volunteering as a court monitor, and working as a photojournalist. Attending some days were a struggle as I had to block out the negativity from an ongoing personal issue, but the support and love from this community of players gave me the strength to show up.

As someone who has been passionate about pickleball for seven years, I am frequently heard saying, “Pickleball players are some of the nicest people you will ever meet! Would you believe that I am great friends with the players who were my opponents in the very first tournament I ever played in?” Unlike some sports, pickleball is extremely social, and I often encourage my players to enter and attend tournaments simply to meet people.

Silver 4.0, 50+ Doubles Medalists, Jeanne Stasny and Debi Cantrell

During the Open, I reconnected with players and made new friends and potential doubles partners from all over the country, and I asked, “What impact has pickleball made in your life?” Some ladies shared their own stories of heartache, loss, and divorce with me. All of which are currently living happy, healthy, and positive lives. For Jeanne Stasny (an opponent from my very first tournament, former 4.5 doubles partner, and dear friend), pickleball has helped her heal from the loss of her sister, a grief which gripped her for years. The challenge of the sport, the supportive community of players, and focus on healthy diet and exercise, have improved all areas of her life. She travels and competes in tournaments all over the country spreading positivity everywhere she goes.

After her husband passed away, Kathy Blandford moved to Naples from Cincinnati, Ohio to be close to her aging parents with health issues. Outside from her parents, she didn’t know a soul. Immediately upon moving to Naples, and thanks to a friendly neighbor’s insistence, Kathy was introduced to pickleball.

“It saved me! I’ve become close friends with 30 locals. Every morning, I look forward to playing with my friends at Fleischmann Park,” remarks Kathy Blandford.

Before pickleball, Kory Kelly served in the Air Force and CIA and had been living with PTSD for five years. He was only able to go to work and come directly home. One and a half years ago, Kory was introduced to pickleball by his 80-year-old mother and her church ladies. He quickly became hooked on the sport, and it gave him the opportunity to face his fears in a supportive, encouraging environment.

“What pickleball has done for me? It brought me out of my house. The people are the treasure of this sport! The game is great, but it’s the people. I now have friends all over the country. It has changed my life! It has returned me to my wife and family,” expresses Kory Kelly.

He and his mixed doubles partner, Susan Henderson, are always seen sporting patriotic outfits during competition. For Kory, the patriotic outfits provide him with a constant reminder, a conversation starter, and an opportunity to share his story with others. Pickleball is now a major focus in his life. In fact, in November, he not only competed at Nationals in Casa Grande, Arizona, but he won gold in 4.0. In the U.S. Open, he and his partner competed at the 4.5 level. Kory and his wife, now empty nesters, are planning on relocating to Arizona or Naples, Florida. Pickleball has definitely impacted their lives and the lives of many others!

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