“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in
Till I reach the end, and then I’ll start again
No, I won’t leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail”
It’s like ping-pong, but bigger.
It’s like tennis, but with a more friendly wiffle ball.
And the name.
“Ray, oh my God. I have to play something called, ‘Pickleball.’ My mom says it’s super popular. I looked it up, I think it’s going to be huge.”
“You’re a dork.”
He’s right. But I had to see for myself. Tennis was not really my thing (I did passably well in summer sports camp as a kid, but not enough to beat anyone soundly). I wasn’t a whiz at racquetball (I can barely see that blue ball, and often spend court time cowering near misses at my head). But when it came to ping-pong, I was Olympic-awesome.
“You remember, Ray? I totally smoked you every time. You refused to play me anymore.”
“Oh, yeah, right. . . I don’t think so. I let you win. You needed something.”
“Excuse me? Want to go again right now?”
“You’re a dork.”
I had some skills I could bring to the courts! I suddenly had visions of amateur teams just begging me to join them. A jersey with my own name and number. My own paddle. I would name it Silver.
I am a total dork.
I called my YMCA to participate in a beginners’ clinic they were offering so that I could check it out. The gal on the phone paused when I said I wanted to sign up.
“You know that this is an ‘Active Member’ class, right?”
Active Member classes are generally for the 55 and up crowd.
“Yes, I get it. But it’s 18 and over . . .”
“Well, yes . . .”
And I was. I was going into a group who would probably hate me for my age alone. Who does she think she is? They would ask each other, to come into a group like this and strut her stuff?
And, I have to say, I thought I had this world dominated. After all, what had my Orangetheory classes trained me for?
Yeah. Not THIS.
Nope. I was worked.
Our director of play was a woman easily in her late 70’s named Marla. Her first paddle, which she brought to show us, was one that she fashioned herself. She had sawed a wooden Smashball paddle to match the dimensions of a Pickleball standard paddle, and then used duct tape to cushion the handle.
She gave us each a ball and then asked us to bounce them off the tops of our paddles. After a few hits, mine made direct contact with the front of Marla’s skull.
She didn’t even flinch.
“Yep, that’s bound to happen,” she said, and then continued the clinic.
We learned how to serve the ball to the opposite side of the court, and were told to volley it between the teams as many times as we could.
You would think that a wiffle ball slows down as the air blows through it.
Especially when that wiffle ball is being beamed at you at about the speed of light by what is apparently an extremely strong arm wrapped in a frail-looking one. If it bounced on the court, I had a pretty decent shot at hitting it, but after the first return, you can hit it without bouncing. I never did do well with things that come straight for the middle of my forehead. And I lack the cat-like reflexes of the retired, apparently.
Marla got her revenge on my earlier transgression.
Yup, that’s bound to happen.
By the end of an hour and a half, my feet hurt and I was sweating. Some of these gals didn’t even look winded. Most of my exercise had come from constantly running after my own missed balls, which happened more in my corner than theirs.
At least I got in my cardio for the day. Maybe for the week.
Marla called us all in.
“Alright, not too bad for your first time. You all did really well (she didn’t look my way), and we hope you take what you’ve learned and bring it back. You have all now earned the Pickleball pin. You are now part of the club.”
Now part of the club. Maybe at the bottom of the pack, humbled and ashamed at my ridiculous ageism, but still part of a club. And despite the fact that I absolutely need more practice before going out on the court with the regulars, I really can’t wait to go back.
After all, I have a pin to show off now.
And this ain’t over, Marla.