Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sport Named After a Dog

I've been around for almost seventy years, so I thought I had run out of games I could play, except Words with Friends. Then, last week, I walked into my health club and saw some seniors on one of the basketball courts, playing a racket sport I had never seen. It looked like they were playing on a badminton-sized court, hitting a whiffle ball over a low net with a ping pong-sized racket. I had to control my inclination to run over and say "I wanna play! I wanna play" like a little kid, because it sure looked like fun. But what the heck were they playing?
          Like the title of this entry says -- the game was named after a dog that belonged to one of the inventors of the sport back in 1965. Apparently the little canine, named Pickles, loved to chase balls, which, as anyone who plays a racket sport already knows, is a built-in part of the game -- except for the birdies in badminton, which, in lieu of rolling, tend to stay where they land, like dead birds, as it were. 
          Since I saw so many gray-haired people playing, I assumed Pickleball was one of those games intended only for old people, but a visit to the Pickleball website disabused me of that notion. And a couple of games later, I was having a great time and sweating like an old person who had just run a marathon. Or, in my case, a couple of blocks.  
          If you play racket sports already, this is an easy one to pick up. You simply have to get used to the variations in rules and strategies of the game. My years of tennis, racketball, and platform tennis made the transition easy. Having a former tennis pro as my partner didn't hurt. [In Pickleball, everyone is a former something]. After three hours of two games on, one game off, I was informed that I could no longer consider myself a rookie. I would be expected to hold my own from now on. 
          For anyone who hasn't lived and died to play sports, at any level, my excitement at finding something new to feed my competitive juices, while sparing my body, probably seems excessive. But it isn't about winning and losing anymore [most of the time], it's about something larger -- the competition itself. 
          I suppose I didn't appreciate competing in sports until I had to give them up. Wait until illness or injury makes you quit whatever it is you love doing. And get back to me. 
          I should have seen the signs. In order to play tennis, I had to spend two hours at the chiropractor working on my back, just getting ready to play on my USTA mixed doubles tennis teams. I was so excited when I got to play in a USTA 9.0 league. But I had to spend two more hours back at the chiro the next day, undoing what I'd done to myself. 
          Then I would load up with Advil to compete in another sport -- platform tennis. And spend the rest of the day in bed after each of my matches. Softball and volleyball were long since off my radar. And I had to put my road bike flat on the ground just to get on it. My disintegrating hips, which caused most of my back problems, were getting down to the nub. 
          What followed were years of using crutches, because our insurance system pretty much farked my chances of getting my battered hips replaced until Medicare. When I got new implants, it was like a miracle. I could walk again. Three years later, it still seems like a miracle. But, for some reason, I have only gingerly returned to sports. A little tennis. A little walking. A bike ride here and there. And beach paddle in August on the Jersey Shore. Not because I didn't have the best possible hip surgery for athletes [anterior total hip surgery with Dr. Michael Stover who is now at Northwestern Hospital], but because I had been so active, I was afraid I'd break something, even though Dr. Stover kept telling me I had no restrictions, except, in my case, no distance running, please. Fortunately, running had never been my idea of a good time. I am happy to leave that to my marathoning daughters. 
          For some reason, perhaps by not returning to full activity right away, people notice that my balance, agility, and movement continue to improve, especially if they haven't seen me for a few months. 
          So when I saw all those people playing Pickleball, perhaps it wasn't just my need for competition that kicked in, maybe my improved kinesthesia was also giving me the go ahead. You can play. 
          I posted a update on my Facebook wall about playing Pickleball. My elite athlete girlfriend in LA, who has had one knee replacement and needs another, but still works out, coaches volleyball, and plays competitive badminton, made a telling comment: "How's your body after playing?"  She knows that there's a tendency to overindulge on both our parts. Play through pain, all that stuff. NOTE TO NANCY: It's six hours later and I'm still upright, mobile, pain and medication free -- so I'll get back to you tomorrow, after 24 hours. 
          Meanwhile, I'm just happy to be here. . .especially now that I can play Pickleball.

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