LAC LA BICHE - Pickleball is a fantastic way to get into shape and make lasting friendships, say a growing number of players across the Lakeland.
A few years ago, Lac La Biche's Garry Nunns was introduced to Pickleball while wintering in Arizona. Nunns, a prolific athlete in his younger days, was unaware of what he’d gotten himself into hitting the court for the first time in decades.
“I was hooked right away," said Nunns, who created a pickleball social media page for like-minded Lac La Biche area residents. In recent months, he's caught the attention of a group of enthusiasts. These recreational athletes can be found at the Bold Center on Mondays and Wednesdays playing the sport that is like a large-scale ping-pong game. Games are played inside the Bold Center in the winter months, on volleyball courts, and outside on the tennis courts in the warmer months.
The local roster of players is from a diverse background.
“The players in our local group come from all walks of life and are all ages, not just seniors,” Nunns stated. “I’ve played against people who were serious athletes in their prime, others who are involved in various types of physical fitness, and even a few who consider themselves to be certified couch potatoes,” he continued with a laugh.
Nunns would like to see the Lac La Biche pickleball group continue to grow. He realizes it's a new sport — but said people shouldn't be scared off by either the "new" word or the "sport" one.
“Quite often, people are reluctant to try something new because they’re not sure if they will be accepted or not,” he said. “This is a great game. There is so much camaraderie among the players and nobody judges anybody else."
While the game seems to be just starting to gain momentum in Lac La Biche, down the road in St. Paul, it’s gone mainstream.
Incorporated in 2016, the St. Paul club has 143 members — and continues to grow each year.
“This is a great sport and a great group of people,” said Bob Deacon, the president of the St. Paul Pickleball Club. “
While the ages of St. Paul members vary, the average is right around 60. The oldest player on the St. Paul courts is 84. Teenagers are also part of the club, and a recent local survey shows the fastest-growing pickleball people are in the 16-34 age range.
Deacon believes the reason for the growth of pickleball is because the sport is accessible to individuals of all ability levels, not just serious athletes.
“Participants can experience success from the first time they play,” he stated. “The opportunities to progress are unlimited no matter what athletic abilities you posses.”
Over the past couple of years, the St. Paul Pickleball Club has hosted house tournaments during the indoor season, which lasts from November to April.
“Each June, we hold our annual invitational tournament, called the Martian Spring Fling,” Deacon said. “This year, we hosted 60 participants from across the province.”
The St. Paul club is currently in discussions ot partner or take over the outdoor tennis courts to accommodate regular outdoor games.
The Elk Point community has also noticed an increase in the sport's interest.
“Right now, our club has 10 steady players and around 16 memberships,” said Pat Demers, president of the Elk Point Pickleball Club. “That said, many people in the community have shown a tremendous amount of interest in the sport and we expect to be recruiting many new members soon.”
Like other clubs in the region, Elk point pickleball players are a mixed bag of teenagers, younger adults, middle-aged, and seniors.
The club, which meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, is planning to host its inaugural tournament this coming September.
“This is a great and challenging sport for all ages,” Demers said. “More people should come out and try it.”
While the popularity of pickle ball has seen a sharp increase, so have injuries associated with the sport. Although pickleball has been branded to an older audience and is a slower-speed version of tennis, injuries can still happen. Recent media reports about the global rise of the sport have been focusing on the corresponding rise in injuries. Back in Lac La Biche, doing a few stretches before his next game, Nunns says there are risks to any sport or activity. He suggests players do pre-game stretches and don't get involved if they aren't feeling well.
“Injuries occasionally occur in this sport, usually when players aren’t paying attention,” Nunns told Lakeland This Week.
For more details on the pickleball scene across the Lakeland, go to the digital version of this story at www.lakelandtoday.ca and click on the club links.
Interested in becoming a player of the great sport of pickleball? For more information, contact the Bold Center.