A man hits a pickleball with a paddle.

Pickleball, Its Benefits to a Prostate Cancer Survivor

Congressman Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell invented the game of pickleball one summer afternoon in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, WA. It’s a racket sport on a smaller court than a tennis court.

The story of pickleball

At the net there’s an area called "the kitchen," a sort of minefield that players cannot enter unless the ball lands there. Only then after it bounces can you step into the kitchen dink (soft hit) the ball back to your opponent. New players are often chided by veterans: "you're in the kitchen," and, "get out of the kitchen." You lose the point or the serve if you’re caught in the kitchen. Very annoying but a nuance of the sport.

OK, what's with the name? It’s a simple explanation. It is said that the Pritchards had a cocker spaniel named Pickles, who became interested in this new game. Whenever a ball would come his way, he would take the ball and run off with it, because you see, it was Pickle's ball. And that is how the game got its name. And the USA Pickleball Association is sticking to it.

Supporting others

This fast-growing sport has attracted the young and young at heart. At 72, I am a prostate cancer survivor. In my book "The Prostate Chronicles," I devoted an entire chapter on how the game and my pickleball “peeps” supported my journey from diagnosis through Da Vinci surgery, to recovery.

I was also able to support men who had just received the diagnosis of prostate cancer. This month, as of my writing this, marks three years since my surgery, and I’m finally getting back into trash talking, competitive form!

Sharpening my game

Why is such a simple game of slamming or dinking a special wiffle ball in a weird chess match such an elixir of life for me? Quite simply stated, two to three hours each morning playing peeps that range in age from fifty-five to eighty-two is a wonderful way to meet new peeps and challenge me to sharpen my game.

Several have had hip and knee replacements (or both). In my case, I will require knee replacement surgery, but a good brace helps me get around the court. I have to give up some shots because I cannot pivot to my left, and my opponents are wise to that weakness.

Facing all kinds of people

In the hot, humid climate of North Texas, I play from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. most days, except if the winds gust 15-20 mph. Naturally one has to drink more water than usual, and I work up a good sweat. Younger players run around the small courts, but age and treachery works for me in most games.

I have worn out two rackets, and three pairs of court shoes. I have been beaten by 80-year-old women who stand their ground at the line and dink me into submission. I have slayed the six-foot-five peep I call Attila the Hun by sending low shots to his feet. Of course, an errant high shot and my typically red shirt becomes a target for this raging bull!

Many survivors choose tennis, cycling, and sports that require more aerobic activity. I play pickleball, walk, and often cycle to play, depending on my knee. I also play golf, but that is a subject for another day.

The support of my pickleball peeps

I spoke of relationships formed over the past few years. Frankly, the benefit for me during my recovery, the pandemic shutdown, and shelter-in-place rules was the support of my pickleball peeps. I was able to apply humor through our chat room online, as well as share YouTube videos on pickleball strategy. We rally to help those who were unable to play due to the illness of a spouse.

My wife, Karen, suffered serious injuries the day of my surgery in a fall at the hospital. Karen has serious preexisting conditions that were of concern while locked down waiting for the covid vaccines. I did the laundry, grocery shopping, and important errands in order to prevent Karen from exposure to the virus. Since I am an early riser, I can play pickleball while she sleeps and return home in time before she awakens, thus I don't have to worry while I play.

Pickleball is an elixir for me. A concoction of networking, advocacy for prostate cancer, and exercise. If you choose to try pickleball, just remember to "dink" responsibly!

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