Active snowbirds bring pickleball craze to province

Pickleball is only now becoming a popular sport in Manitoba, but for two local snowbirds it is already a big part of their active lives.

Flin Flonners Brian and Lindsay Danielson spend their winters in Arizona, where pickleball – a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong – has become a state phenomenon.

Brian, a retired business owner, and Lindsay, a retired schoolteacher, picked up the sport in January 2013 while living in the sunny state.

The couple spends their winters in Sun City Festival, a resort-style retirement community in the city of Buckeye, where pickleball is booming.

The development has eight pickleball courts that are open to residents and its club.

“We just decided to take some paddles that they were offering. We used them on our own, then bought our own eventually, and then took lessons,” said Brian.

The couple joined the club in the Sun City Festival area and began playing last winter.

Excelled

Brian quickly excelled in the sport as he brought it back to Manitoba last summer. He and Lindsay would play pickleball on the Creighton tennis courts to “keep up their skills” for the winter season.

While back in Canada, Brian brought news of pickleball to Jim Evanchuk of the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Brandon.

Evanchuk was grateful for the new sport as he able to introduce it to a number of programs with which he works.

Pickleball was subsequently added to the Power Smart Manitoba Games this past July, when Brian earned his first Gold medal in the sport.

“I just played the game,” said Brian, explaining his journey from lessons to a Gold medal.

He picked up his hardware with a win in the Men’s Doubles in the 55-plus age category.

Brian and Lindsay had already planned to attend to Games, hosted in Neepawa, to enter the mixed doubles category.

Wanting to make the trip worthwhile, Brian asked for Evanchuk’s help to finding a partner for men’s doubles. He was paired with Lionel Piche of Winnipeg.

“We met 15 minutes before our first match and we just clicked,” said Brian.

The pair went on to win all of their matches and eventually take Gold.

“We played very well together,” said Brian.

It can take several matches before partners find their right court chemistry, but both Brian and Piche were in sync with each other’s moves and able to read the court.

“We thought the same way,” Brian said. “He moved quickly and was a very good athlete.”

Quickly advancing

Though Brian has been playing less than two years, many players at the Manitoba Games thought he had been at it much longer.

“I happened to take to the sport and get competitive with it,” he said. “I’ve really only played a total of six months over two winters. It’s just so much fun.”

Brian says he spends a lot of time at the pickleball courts, regardless of whether he has a partner.

“If there’s not enough for a game I’ll work on my serve,” he said. “I just love the sport. I love being active.”

Age-friendly

Pickleball is an age-friendly sport. It combines aspects of three sports, but Brian says it is as fast-paced as a player wants it to be.

“There’s not a lot of running, so really, any age can play,” he said.

Brian says one woman in the Sun City Festival club has limited mobility but still enjoys the game.

“She walks to the gate with her walker, leaves the walker outside and then plays pickleball,” he said. “It’s a sport you can enjoy and get some exercise. She loves it and everyone loves playing against her.”

Because there isn’t much running and serves are required to be made underhand, Brian says pickleball is a lot friendlier on the body than tennis or other high impact sports.

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Pickleball clinic for Flin Flon

Pickleball has grown across Manitoba and Flin Flon will be the next stop for the sport.

Flin Flon’s Brian Danielson will be bringing pickleball to École McIsaac School with Jim Evanchuk of Active Living Coalition for Older Adults, in Brandon.

The pair is bringing the craze of pickleball to Flin Flon with a free demonstration clinic on Wednesday.

The evening session will be open to all residents. Evanchuk will provide the equipment for the session as he hopes to encourage a new sport in community.

Evanchuk reiterates that the sport is for everyone.

“You don’t have to be athletic,” he said. Commonly, games are played in a singles format, but Evanchuk says playing doubles is a great way to incorporate the social aspect of the sport.

“You’re working together,” he said, when paired in doubles, “and as a result, it’s a very social activity. It’s a lot of fun; you can play and have a conversation during the game.”

Danielson quickly excelled in the sport – made up of tennis, badminton and ping pong – while spending his winters in Arizona.

Pickleball is by no means a new sport. It was created in the 1960s and has since flourished in many US states. Players use paddles, similar to those for ping pong, as well as low-to-the-ground nets, and courts similar to those of tennis.

The movements mimic all three sports, but Danielson says pickleball is much easier on the body as the majority of shots are done underhand.

Evanchuk and Danielson encourage residents to try the new sport on Wednesday. As all the equipment will be supplied, Evanchuk says only a water bottle, rubber-sole shoes and comfortable clothing is needed.

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