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Pickleball keeps Grand Rapids seniors moving

Daniel Boothe

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, and now the relatively unknown sport is taking the Grand Rapids retirement community by storm. At the Grand Rapids MSA Fieldhouse near 28th street and 196 in Grand Rapids, a number of athletes over the age of 70 have shown up for a pick-up game of Pickleball. What is Pickleball?

“Pickleball is a cross between ping pong, tennis and a little bit of racquetball,” said Neil Johnson, a board member for the Grand Rapids Pickleball club. Johnson who is 70 years old, said Pickleball gives him a chance to come out and work up a sweat on a regular basis.

“I was going to the club and working out and doing all of that, but this is a hoot," Johnson said with a laugh. "Come here, play a couple of hours, maybe two and half, I am a bit of junkie because I’ve been playing five days a week,” he said. 

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, even though the sport itself is over 50 years old. Legend has it that the game is named after the inventor of Pickleball's dog Pickles. While that may be folklore, the USA Pickleball Association stands by that claim.

While Pickleball appeals to all ages, men and women alike, Johnson says it’s fun to stay competitive.

“I am 70, and I can give the young people a run for their money,” he said. 

The sport is gaining traction in Grand Rapids, where it can be played both indoors and outdoors. Grand Rapids will host the America State Games of America in August where the best Pickleball players in the country will come to compete.

Tournament Director Victor Wolverton said he isn’t surprised by the sports rising popularity.

“Basically I think people get out here and enjoy just playing the game, it’s such an easy game to play, if you have played badminton, if you’ve planned ping pong, you if you have played any type of paddle sport, anyone can play it,” he said. 

Which keeps seniors moving and feeling young, says Pickleballer Bonnie Lindke.

“As I physical educator, retired I just returned from Florida spent two months down in Florida playing pickleball, the best part is look at all these people exercising,” she said.  

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