Randy Hall was on the pickleball court when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.
“I was pretty much dead,” said Hall, 64, a retired teacher who lives in Willmar, Minn., and winters in Florida. “I had a five-vessel bypass that night.”
Two months later, Hall was back on the court. His status as a top-rated pickleball athlete helped. “I recovered very quickly,” he said. “It was painful first few weeks, but the pain kept subsiding. I did lot of walking right away.”
Pickleball, for those of you under 50, is a sport invented in the 1960s in which players use paddles to hit a perforated ball over a net. Originally conceived as a kids’ back yard game, the name comes from a fishing boat term (don’t believe the myth involving a dog named Pickles, both Hall and Wikipedia agree).
The name can be a turnoff for potential players, Hall said. “The game is goofy sounding and they don’t want to get into it. But once they start playing, they pretty much can get hooked on it.”
That’s what happened to Hall when he started playing 10 years ago. A runner and racquetball player, he started looking for a game that would provide an aerobic workout in a social setting. His racquetball partner told him about pickleball.
“Like most people, I started late in life,” he said. But he has more than made up for lost time; to call him a pickleball enthusiast is a major understatement. His projects involve directing the pickleball competition in the Minnesota Senior Games, teaching pickleball in Minnesota and Florida, selling pickleball paddles for a couple of companies and serving as president of the Northern Paddles Club in St. Cloud. He is a district ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association (usapa.org). He works with communities to put in pickleball courts and looks for neglected tennis courts that could be easily adapted for pickleball games. He will be competing in the National Senior Games in the Twin Cities this year (July 3-16).
Although some people of all ages play — there are national champions in their 20s and 30s — pickleball is particularly popular among older adults. It’s easy for a newcomer to pick up the basics, it’s relatively kind to the joints and provides time for social interaction.
“You can start out having fun right away with very little skill,” Hall said. “As it progresses and you want to get better, you work on your skills and your shots and your strategies.”
Because at a higher level the game involves so much skill and strategy, older players can be formidable competitors — even against much younger opponents.
“A 70-year-old can’t compete with 50-year-old in the 100-yard dash, but I’m 64 and I’m able to compete with almost anybody in the Senior Games in pickleball, because my skill level is pretty high,” Hall said. “It’s just not a game where you just bang the ball back and forth.” □