Jan papi
2018-04-14 14:45:10

Pickleball growing more popular in Central Florida: 'It's addicting'

Pickleball is winning enthusiasts here in Central Florida.

Karen Altavilla had been active throughout most of her life despite the presence of degenerative disc syndrome, which caused six herniated discs in her neck and back along with spinal stenosis and arthritis. In more recent years, as one would expect, Altavilla, 55, was slowing a bit - until she began taking lessons in May and began playing pickleball in fall.

Jose Rosado had played all kinds of sports while growing up, particularly baseball, and, later in life, softball. Rather suddenly about eight years ago, he put down his glove and picked up a paddle. Then in his late 50s, he gained a new passionate pursuit for his fitness.

Altavilla and Rosado discovered pickleball at Solivita, a master-planned active adult community in Kissimmee. Amid 4,300 acres, there are 17 pickleball courts. It didn't take long after moving there that Altavilla and Rosado found they couldn't stay off of them.

Pickleball is a sport played on a badminton-sized court with a perforated plastic ball, similar to a wiffle ball, and with paddles (composite or wooden) that measure roughly twice the size of ping-pong paddles. Think a cross between ping-pong and tennis. Like tennis, games can be played in singles or doubles, and beginners can learn the ropes quickly. With origins dating back to 1965, it's the fastest-growing sport nationwide, at least according to the USA Pickleball Association. Yes, there's such an organization.

I think anyone can play. As long as you can swing a paddle, you can play the game. - Jamar Edge, fitness manager at Solivita

In 2016, there were 778 members in Solivita's pickleball club. Today, there are more than 1,000, Altavilla and Rosado among them. Across the United States, courts are popping up in communities, local recreation centers, schools and parks. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association 2017 Pickleball Participant Report, there are 2.8 million pickleball players nationwide. The USA Pickleball Association compiles a comprehensive listing of places to play on the site places2play.org, reporting nearly 6,000 at the end of 2017.

In Central Florida, there are lots of popular locales for pickleball. The Villages has thousands of players. And about a half-dozen local country clubs and parks have courts, including 13 indoor courts at the ClearOne Sports Centre on North John Young Parkway in Orlando. The Greater Orlando Pickleball Club has about 200 members.

While first moving into Solivita, Altavilla heard "laughing and carrying on" coming from the community's nearby Freedom Park. She remembers thinking, "I don't know what they're playing, but whatever it is, I want to play." It turned out to be pickleball.

"I took the lessons and just loved it; it's addicting," Altavilla says, noting that she's in two local leagues and "can play six days a week if I want."

"With the pickleball, it keeps me active; it keeps things moving; it keeps thing limber. When I sit and don't do anything, that's when I tighten up. You would think the pounding on the court would not be good, but [pickleball] has helped me tremendously."

"It keeps you active; it keeps you young. It keeps you moving," says Rosado, adding, "You get to meet people."

Now also a pickleball instructor in the community, he's played in local and regional tournaments, winning "some medals here and there." Once playing four to five hours daily a few years ago, he's now down to less than two hours a day. But there are no plans to stop. He calls pickleball a future Olympic sport and concludes that although "it was really meant for senior citizens, it's now just being consumed by younger players."

Jamar Edge, the fitness manager at Solivita, believes pickleball is appealing for all ages but especially as a "transitional sport" for aging adults. He cites the benefits of the court's dimensions, 44 feet by 20 feet, which enable older athletes to move around and keep the action going.

"If the ball is in play a lot longer, they're moving about more," he says, noting that the oldest player at Solivita is 82.

He also sees fewer injuries than with other sports and points to enhanced hand-eye coordination, reflexes and balance, because player movements are both vertical and horizontal but with reduced physical wear and tear. "This is a sport that allows them to be competitive and allows them to keep that exertion off the body," says Edge, who was introduced to the sport in 2007. "We found that those who were the sports type [at a younger age] lean a lot more toward this particular sport as opposed to any other sport, period.

"I think anyone can play. As long as you can swing a paddle, you can play the game."