Pickleball is a sport that is on the rise.
The game explodes through the city and the suburbs. And as players of all ages and athletic abilities rush to the courts, medics say injuries are on the rise. Sports veterans say there is a safe way to play and a lesser-known advantage of the game that far outweighs the physical advantages.
Any morning in the western suburbs of Hinsdale, you can hear the crackle of a pickleball racket.
The courts here are about seven years old, but the sport has been around a lot longer – since around 1965, when a group of friends from Washington state created the game to keep their families active during the summer.
“Every morning, seven days a week, all six courts are full and typically 10-20 people are waiting,” said pickleball ambassador Bill Voigt. “It’s just packed.”
Voigt teaches the fundamentals to locals who come for the doubles action. A game commonly found in southern retirement communities draws players of all ages to the north.
“I saw an 18-year-old and an 84-year-old on the same team on the pitch, it’s wonderful,” he said.
But the popularity of the pickle has contributed to an increase in injuries.
Dr Jeremy Alland is Athletic Physician at Midwest Orthopedics in Rush
âWe see people falling and injuring their wrists,â he said. “We see people landing on their backs.”
Back hawking on the court is a risky move.
âNever back down,â Voigt said. “When you step back, you grab your heels and you fall.”
It was a decision that caused Michael Callen’s back injury.
“Something I guess you’re not supposed to do, pedal back for a shot, which I did, and then started flying through the air and landing not on my head but on my back and I fractured two lower vertebrae, âCallen said.
The 61-year-old is still recovering and is not playing the season.
Lisa Wennenstrum is back on the pitch after a broken ankle last year.
âI was at the net where we drank the balls, and I just wanted to get that last shot,â she said. “And I rolled my ankle and went down and ended up tearing an ankle bone. And it was extremely painful.
This is another safety tip from Voigt: the fewer steps the better.
âI like to call it ‘Zen Pickle’,â he said. âBe calm. Keep your feet calm. Keep them on the ground. And just move towards the ball one step.
âWe give the advice to people who haven’t done a lot of physical activity in almost any sport: Start slow. Don’t overdo it. Take breaks, a day off in between, âAlland said. “Don’t try to do everything someone who has been playing for a long time has been doing.”
But the benefits of gambling far outweigh the risks. At the only designated pickle courts in the city of Chicago – most are just modified tennis facilities – Rick Prewitt plays for a genuine reason.
âI am on the ground every day, every day,â he said.
Known as “Mr. Pickle,” the 63-year-old recruits players of all skill levels and ages – some in the ’80s – at Gwendolyn Brooks Park in the south of town.
âEveryone here has a medical history,â he said. “So it’s just fabulous that we’re all here being athletic.”
Prewitt’s story begins at the park. A year ago, he collapsed on the courts.
âFortunately there were people around me when this happened,â he said. âThey did CPR. And I went to the doctor and I had my boyfriend. I am now Robo-Rick. I have an ICD.
It’s a defibrillator in his chest. Prewitt has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, but is back in the process of building a program that is as much about competition as it is community.
âIt forces you to go out and breathe, to interact with different people. So for me that’s the biggest advantage, âsaid Prewitt. âI got pickleball chills. Anytime anything pickleball related could benefit, it gives me chills. We will continue to grow. I’ll be gone, long gone, and this game will still be going on. And some of the benefits we offer will really show up in this next generation. “
This weekend, you can catch the third annual Chicago Pickleball Open tournament in the northern suburbs of Highland Park.
If you’re wondering where the term pickleball came from, it’s believed the creators named it for a type of crew boat. Or, more charming story, after the family dog.
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