“Oskar isn’t going to let you play with me anymore if you keep getting injured!” KitKat cried in dismay. I was holding my lower back—which I had seriously strained while going after one of her killer shots—and wincing in pain. I wobbled over to the benches courtside and slowly lowered my spasming back into a resting position. How did we get here?!
For the last few years, I’ve watched the meteoric rise of pickleball as a hobby. I saw tennis courts being converted to pickleball courts and listened to various friends and acquaintances talk about the joys of the sport… My interest was piqued, but I kept thinking, that’s for “old people,” right?
Still, I was intrigued. I had always wanted to become good at tennis because it’s a sport you can supposedly play into old age. In fact, KitKat and I took tennis lessons together in 2012 with the hope that we could play regularly. However, we both kinda sucked at it and were never able to reinforce what we had learned. That was the trouble with tennis, from my perspective: Finding someone to play with at the right level of play. If two people suck at tennis, the ball never makes it into play. If one is good and the other is bad, it’s a humiliating defeat. And it was clear to me that Oskar, with his PD would never be able to play me. Which brought me back to pickleball. I knew all sorts of people that played or wanted to learn—and everything I read about the “sport” reinforced that it was “easy to learn.” Heck, KitKat’s daughter even played pickleball in phy ed class, so maybe it wasn’t just for old people.
At Christmas, Oskar surprised me by gifting me a pickleball set of two paddles, plus balls. Now, I really had no excuse. When I mentioned this to KitKat (full of New Year’s ambition) she pounced on it. “Let’s take lessons! I know a place!” A few clicks and texts later, we were signed up for semi-private lessons with a pro at a local indoor pickleball club on the north end of town. (If uncoordinated me was going to learn a new sport, I wanted the unfortunate soul burdened with that task to be paid for their trouble vs. trying to learn from a friend.)
Surprise. We had a great time! Sure, we sucked, but we were able to understand the rules and play in just one lesson. A big improvement over our multiple tennis lessons that left us more frustrated than inspired. As our instructor explained, pickleball is easy to learn, but hard to master…as a result, it’s quite addictive. And we also found it to be a surprisingly good workout.
While I am now a staunch believer in exercise to maintain one’s health, I will confess that my typical routines don’t involve a whole lot of cardio, and pickleball involves enough movement to check that box. Also, as became apparent in the days following our lesson, pickleball also utilizes a broad set of muscles that weren’t seeing much action during my daily walks, weightlifting, Pilates or Peloton rides (refer back to the earlier “injury” that opened this story). Truth be told, I don’t exercise as often as I should during the winter (when the desire to “hibernate” takes over), so the fact that pickleball is both FUN and social was a big part of its allure.
Ironically (prophetically?), there was a whiskey distillery next door to the pickleball club. It all seemed like divine intervention. This was meant to be. We each had a very expensive Manhattan and brainstormed how we could keep the good vibes going closer to home.
As luck would have it, an indoor park just one block from my home has two pickleball courts available for early morning play. So for the past 5 weeks, we’ve been hitting the court for a weekly game or three. Up until last Thursday, we were fortunate enough that nobody else had reservations—meaning there was nobody to witness how bad we are. But this time an older (and likely more experienced) couple came to play alongside us.
This would require some player modification om my part, as I tend to swear a lot—and loudly—whenever I miss a shot (which is frequently). This lucky couple arrived in time to watch me wipe out while going after a shot during our first game. However, I was pleased to find that I didn’t break or sprain my wrist despite landing on it (unlike when I broke my arm two years ago while skating with KitKat—the genesis of her comment about me getting hurt whenever we go out to do something ambitious). I’m guessing I probably made the older folks feel pretty good about themselves when I hobbled off the court and abandoned the game.
The truth is, I can be oddly competitive about certain things, and KitKat is an infuriating person to play against. I know that she doesn’t have great control of the ball just yet, but she still manages to hit to the far reaches of the court more often than not, which is why I keep diving for shots I can’t make and injuring myself in the process!
Of course, KitKat has a slight competitive advantage—she’s been getting in additional lessons and games between our weekly sessions. A true convert, she’s indoctrinated her sisters, husband and friends, introducing them to The Dark Side and the addictiveness of a well-placed shot. Come to think of it, she’d make a great cult leader.
I’m planning on widening my circle of competitors once the weather improves and there are outside court options that don’t require 7:45 a.m. reservations. Unlike tennis, I think pickleball is something that Oskar could play…maybe not competitively though. I’m also planning to drag my sister along to lessons. My goal is to be able to intentionally do what KitKat achieves with a good dose of luck—and whoop her smarmy ass.
I’m already start to heal from last week’s pulled muscle and a conveniently timed snowstorm is giving me a bye for the week, so chances are good I’ll be back in play next Thursday—although this time I will remember to stretch more thoroughly…proving once again that you CAN teach an old Stormy new tricks.