Category Archives: Fitness

Pickleball makes a dink shot among sports lovers…

Pickleball, Pickleball, how I love the game,/Pickleball, Pickleball, what a silly name/ When I play, every day, my body is in pain/ But you know, I can’t stop, unless it starts to rain!! (Parody sung to tune of O Chanukah!)

What? You haven’t heard of pickleball! Have you been living under a marinated mushroom?

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are over 3.2 million pickleball players in the United States alone, 5,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States; and at least one location in all 50 states.The game is being introduced to kids and teenagers in physical education classes in middle and high schools.

Pickleball was the brainchild of former Washington State representative Joel Pritchard. Summer, 1965, he and two friends came home from golf to three bored families. Their attempt to play badminton was thwarted by the fact that a shuttlecock was no where to be found. Undaunted, they retrieved a Whiffle ball, improvised some paddles with some plywood, and lowered the badminton net to compensate.  His wife Joan dubbed the game “pickleball” after the “Pickle Boat” in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats

Although pickleball languished in obscurity for almost fifty years, that all changed when Baby Boomers began to retire. Many “seniors”  still wanted to compete and win at a sport but lacked their youthful running abilities According to an article on the AARP website, pickleball, which  combined elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis, filled that need. Games usually last 10 to 15 minutes, so players can take frequent breathers. Since the court is small and most people play doubles, there’s no serious running — making it easier on the knees. The lightweight paddle and plastic ball reduces the chances of tennis elbow; having two people on the team reduces the area of play. 

My husband Larry picked up the game when he turned 65 and joined Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park [New York].  Larry had been involved in sports his entire life—basketball, baseball, and track in his youth and running and cycling as an adult. In pickleball, he has found camaraderie as well as the ability—to quote Jimmy Buffet—“to grow older but not up.” He has participated in several tournaments but prefers to play for the exercise, the fun, and the socialization. During the summer, Larry plays with the Summit County pickleball league in Colorado. As the group plays at over 9100 feet, their tee shirts proudly proclaim, “We Play With An ALTITUDE!”

When we moved to Florida, one of Larry’s  requirements was that the community had an active pickleball presence. Solivita, which is isted by www.55.com as one of the top five 55+ communities for pickleball, has seventeen outdoor  courts. The Smashers, the largest sports club in Solivita, has over 1000 members and growing. Along with hosting the Polk Senior Games, the club also holds Sadie Hawkins, Halloween, and Yearling (new players) games. 

Tom Leva, the Smasher’s president, first played the game in pickleball in 2007. After moving to Solivita in 2008, Tom, who had a history of heart problems, lost 40 pounds and was soon playing the game competitively and teaching new players. Although reoccurring cardiac issues has curtailed his game, he has remained on the board and has been behind the expansion and improvements of the pickleball courts. 

When they moved to Solivita in 2015, Dave and Patti “Smith” were tennis players who were not going to ever play that silly game called pickleball.  After their neighbors gave them paddles and took them out to play, they soon became self-professed pickleball addicts.  They enjoy sharing their love of the game with others and meeting so many interesting people. Patti is looking forward to playing in the Florida Senior Games in December.

Sandie and Howie Vipler, fellow YMCA pickleballers, recognized soon after picking up the game in 2012 that Clifton Park lacked outdoor courts. Howie reached out to Phil Barrett, the town supervisor, who agreed to fund painting pickleball lines on  some of the town tennis courts. They have moved themselves and  their equipment to Virginia, where they continue to play almost every day. 

Meanwhile, Sandie, who has a sports resume that includes downhill skiing, kayaking, cycling, and golfing, regards pickleball as her favorite. She plays pickleball 5 to 6 days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day. She revels in the compliments she gets from new competitors, including “You play tall for a short person” and “Wow, look at the wheels on her!” At 68 years old, Sandie vows that she will be playing until she can no longer walk.

That hasn’t stopped Brenda Taylor. Brenda had to have a leg amputated after a 1998 motorcycle accident and desperately wanted to find a way to get exercise while in her wheelchair. Except for an extra bounce before returning the serve, the rules are basically the same. Her proudest moment playing the game is when people compliment on her backhand shot. 

Mel Toub had played tennis and racquetball in his youth. Now in his late sixties and facing health challenges, he has mixed those two sports with pickleball. “Pickleball has wide appeal to both folks who used to play racket sports in their youth and to seniors who wish to remain active but no longer have the stamina or physical ability to play more demanding sports like basketball, soccer, and tennis,” said Mel.   “The learning curve to play pickleball at a socially acceptable level is fairly quick, so pickleball becomes a route to a new activity and new sets of friends.”

The game is growing internationally, with many European and Asian countries adding courts. Personal friends from England, Wales, and Canada have gotten hooked on the game after playing in Florida, Rob Harvey located an indoor pickleball facility near his home in Barhead, Alberta. “The game is great for eye-hand coordination. It keeps me  limber and helps the joints.” Pickleball also helps him keep in shape for his  summer baseball league.

Lynda and Steve Gorwill from Wales fell in love with the game after playing the game while on vacation in Florida. Last year, Lynda applied for and received a grant from Wales’ sports council to establish a pickleball league in her town. Although she has had roles in an English soap opera, Lynda still considers one of her proudest moments  was winning a silver medal in her first pickleball tournament in Abingdon Oxforshire, England.

Margaret and Peter Hunter were “kitted” with paddles and balls while visiting Larry and me in Solivita last November. “Within two minutes we were captivated, line, hook and sinker.” They are looking to returning to our area for another American Thanksgiving and another month of pickleball and miss it when they are at home in England. 

Not that pickleball doesn’t come with its hazards. Sharon and Rick McKelvey both ended up with torn meniscus surgery after a year of playing at Solivita. “That wasn’t fun,” said Sharon, another admitted addict,  “but it didn’t stop us from returning to the game.” Debbie Pratt broke a vertebra in her back after she took a bad fall moving backwards to return one of Larry’s volleys. She no longer plays pickleball, but her injury certainly didn’t scare off other women in her RV resort on the West Coast of Florida, who are appropriately called  “The Sweet Pickles.”

Marta Groess, a lifelong athlete and a member of Smashers, says that the most important feature of the game is that it is FUN! “I  tell new players that if they aren’t laughing, they aren’t playing the game right.”

Linda Kuhn, the Smasher’s treasurer, hadn’t played a sport since high school but now she is addicted, sometimes playing 2 to 4 hours in the Florida heat. “Pickleball gives me such a sense of contentment,, Linda said. The game  has reaffirmed my decision that as I age, I am going out with a roar!”

Is pickleball a Jewish game. Well, it certainly isn’t called “kosher pickle” ball! Until that happens, many people-Jews and non-Jews alike—can find America’s favorite new sport fun. 

Originally published in The Jewish World. October 4, 2018

Onto Our Next Adventure

 

Now that Larry and I have become summer “residents” of Colorado. I have challenged myself physically more than any other time in my life. It is my Rocky Mountain boot camp. I return home thinner, stronger, healthier—and already thinking of our next adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

Our daughter Julie came out to Eagle County, Colorado, in 2003 for a one year teaching position at an environment school. Fresh out of college, she fell in love with Colorado, the Rockies, and Sam —not necessarily in that order. Fourteen years later, she, Sam, their daughter Sylvie and their dog Neva live in Frisco, Colorado, seventy miles from Denver on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

Until 2015, we would come out to visit them every year for a couple of weeks. Since our granddaughter arrived, we rent a condo close to their home for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat and to enjoy being Zayde and Gammy.

As Frisco is located 9100 feet above sea level, Larry and I take a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Once we have our mountain lungs, we take advantage of all the area has to offer.

Larry plays in a  pickle ball league three or four times a week—their motto is “We play with an Altitude.” On those days, I leave our condo, pick up my “granddog,” and Neva and I take the trail up to Rainbow Lake. It’s an easy one mile hike to the lake, only made a little tricky by its popularity. Neva and I have had to share the shoreline with up to twenty people and almost as many dogs. On quieter days, we have the lake to ourselves. We play Neva’s version of fetch: I toss a stick into the freezing water; she fetches it; I chase her down to retrieve it. Then we head around the lake, making our way back along a rushing creek home.

When Sam and Julie took us on hikes the first years we visited, I was intimidated by their longer excursions. Would we get lost? Could I handle the steep climbs? Would I fall off a narrow precipice, my body found by the rescue team a week later? Would we run into a moose or bear? After many years of hiking, my moments of terror are limited only to a few dicey paths that are a little too narrow or steep for my taste. “I’m scared,” I utter under my breath.

One of our favorite hikes, Lilypad Lake, takes us along a moderately steep path to a sturdy wooden bridge that spans a rushing creek. Climbing up the stream, we come to a section that overlooks Frisco and Lake Dillon. Another thirty minute climb through forest paths and wildflowers brings us to a lake on the left and a pond filled with lily pads on the right. As chipmunks beg for crumbs, we enjoy water and a trail bar before heading back down.

The longest, most difficult hike we took this summer was to McCullough Gulch, south of Breckinridge. The entire trip is in the shadow of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s fifty-three mountain peaks that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. A few miles drive up a dirt road took us to a parking lot and a half-mile hike to the trail head. The path up the trail got steeper, muddier, and—in my wimpy opinion—less passable. At one point, a short section of small boulders required some scrambling. Above us, two mountain goats grazed. About one and a half miles up, we made our way to White Falls, a waterfall that cascaded from the lake above us. The sky, up to that point blue with fluffy clouds, got darker. From the waterfall, we made our way up to the glacial lake above us.

While not difficult to follow, the path got steeper and required more scrambling around slippery rocks. At one point, we got slightly off trail and needed to climb over some boulders. “I’m scared!” I whispered loudly. Although we were never in any imminent danger of falling, I was saying prayers for our safety. I tried not to think of what our children would say if the broken body of their sixty-something mother was found at the bottom of my imagined crevice. Just as we got to the top of the boulders, a young boy bounded past me to meet the rest of his family on the trail. Pretty embarrassing for me to be so afraid when child regarded it as standard playground fare.

After climbing a final steep grade, Larry and I reached the beautiful glacial lake at the top of McCullough Gulch. Beyond the lake was the magnificent site of Pacific Peak, a 13,900 footer. We had made it! We ate our snacks, drank some water, and enjoyed the spectacular view. Although the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the clouds were fluffy when all of that suddenly changed.

Hail! The skies opened up, and we were being pummeled with pea-sized pellets. We put on  our raincoats and slipped our way down the mountain, this time avoiding the “rock climb.” By the time we got to the waterfall, the hail had turned to spitting rain. A mile further down, the sun came out. Four and a half hours after we had started, we had completed the hike, tired but so glad we had done it.

Larry and I completed a number of hikes during our eight weeks in Frisco, each one providing breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We experienced heat and rain and thunder and lightening and occasional bug swarms, but only once did we have to cut our hike short.

Our last weekend in Colorado, Sam, Larry, Sylvie, Neva and I hiked Black Powder Trail on Boreas Pass. Our two-year-old granddaughter soon tired of riding in her carrier on Sam’s back and decided to tackle the hike on foot. This worked until Sylvie and Neva found a pile of dirt created by burrowing animals that they regarded as more fun than further climbing. After a half hour of digging and snacks, all twenty-two pounds of her led us the way down the trail.

When I share my pictures on Facebook with friends and family, many comment on how strong and brave and fit we had proven ourselves to be. When I share descriptions of our hikes with native Coloradans, however, they are less impressed. “Oh yes! We did that hike in the winter with our snow shoes,” they comment. Or “If you enjoyed McCullough Gulch, you should try the thirteen mile hike up Meadow Lake Trail.” I can see clearly why GetYourFitTogether.com has named Colorado the most fit state in the country. And I know already that my  granddaughter and I will fit right in.

Big Wheels and Big Hills

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Summer mornings on our neighborhood in Upstate New York during the 1980s were quiet—until eight o’clock  At that hour—designated by the parents to be  late enough to ‘start the engines’— the garage doors on almost every house opened one by one. A fleet of children, all sitting low on seats of their Big Wheels, flew down their driveways and began circling the ‘track’ that surrounded the grassy knoll in the middle of the cul-de-sac The Daily Devon Court 500 was officially in session.

Biking had been part of  life since I was a child. I spent hours riding a second-hand three speed on rolling hills past apple orchards and Lake Champlain beaches  Larry and I pedaled through the back roads of Albany County, me on that ancient three speed and Larry on the bike he had ridden to deliver newspapers in Saratoga Springs. Once our children graduated from Big Wheels to two-wheelers, the four of us took family outings on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail.

When we turned forty, Larry and I traded in our relics for lighter, more efficient ten speeds. Larry had to give up competitive running in 1996 due to an injury, and he began biking more frequently. He encouraged me to join him, and we pedaled our way around Southern Saratoga County.

Cycling became a social event.  For a couple of years, a group from Congregation Beth Shalom met on Sunday mornings in the synagogue parking lot for a ten to fifteen mile circuit. Larry and I were enjoying our biking.

And the length of our rides together increased: twenty miles, thirty miles at a clip. As a members of the Mohawk Hudson Wheelmen, we participated with several other riders in metric half centuries, one in which I rode the sixty-two miles in honor of my sixty-second birthday. Larry completed a hundred miler with a more hardy friend.

Despite all my biking, I never was totally comfortable on hills. While Larry gleefully viewed them as a challenge, I dreaded every long, steep incline. I usually made it with a great deal of effort. Once in a while, however, I had to resort to getting off the bike and pushing it to the top.

My fear of hills prevented me from taking advantage of all the all the biking trails near Julie and Sam’s home in Summit County, Larry had taken some rides with Sam, but I bowed out. On our visit in July 2012, however, I had several months of biking long distances in New York under my belt. Larry and I finally took Sam up on his offer to join him for what Sam billed as an easy, fairly flat twenty mile ride around Dillion Lake

“There is a little incline at the beginning of the trip,” Sam explained while we adjusted our seat height on our rentals and snapped on our helmets, “but I am sure you two can handle it.”

As Sam had promised, the first four miles on the bike trail, were flat and straight. Then we arrived at the bottom of Swan Mountain. I craned my neck to view the bike lane that ran along a fairly busy two lane highway. The summit appeared to me to be five miles away,

“Sam, this is not a little incline,” I said. “This is a mountain! How long is it?  And what is the increase in elevation?”

“We go from 9100 to 10200 feet, an 11,00 foot ascent over about a mile,” Sam conceded. “I promise we’ll take it slow.”

Within one half mile, I was huffing and puffing. And sweating. My shirt was stuck to my back; under my helmet, my hair was glued to my head; my socks were drenched. I even had sweat running out of my ear canals.

“I can’t do it,” I yelled to Larry and Sam, who were riding with little effort 200 yards in front of me. “I’m going to walk the rest of the way. I will meet you at the summit.”

“Are you sure?” Larry asked. They barely waited for breathless “Yes!” before they pedaled off and left me to push my bike to the top.

Fifteen minutes later, I met up with Larry and Sam at the Sapphire Point Overlook.

“I made it!” I said to Sam. “It’s all downhill from here!”

Then I took a look down the trail. Whatever goes up must come down, but this down was a steep descent on a narrow, serpentine bike path crowded with other cyclists

“What the heck, Sam?” I exclaimed. “I thought climbing up was bad, but I can’t handle going down this obstacle course!”

“Sorry, Marilyn, but it’s the only way back to our house without adding another ten miles,” said Sam. “Just take it slow.”

“Don’t worry!” said Larry. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Larry’s ‘right-behind-you’ promise lasted an even shorter time than Sam’s ‘we’ll-take-it-slow’ promise. Terrified and white knuckled, I kept hitting my brakes. Larry couldn’t bike slowly enough to follow behind and had to go ahead. I prayed all the way down to the bottom, where I caught up with Larry and Sam for the second time that day.

The remaining miles were less dramatic. And, by the end of our vacation, I had actually forgiven Sam.

Since my bike ride from hell, however, I haven’t attempted a repeat in Colorado.These days, I love riding through my mountain-free community in Florida—elevation in the Orlando area peaks out at eighty-two feet above sea level. Big hills—like Devon Court’s Big Wheels—are in my rear view mirror. And that is fine with me.

Freezin’ for a Reason

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Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left.

I had always been intrigued by stories and pictures of polar plunges, where hundreds of smiling people clad in only bathing suits head into a body of water in the middle of the winter. Participants say they are having fun. I never understood their enthusiasm until I found myself diving into Lake George, water temperature around 50 degrees, on a brisk November day. Crazy? Yes! Glad I did it? Double yes. Because I was ‘freezin’ for a reason. I was raising money for Special Olympics Capital District.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Capital District Region provides year-round training and competitions to more than sixteen hundred athletes from twelve counties in fourteen different sports. For a number of years, Larry and I were involved as Saratoga County Special Olympics track and field and bowling coaches.

We also participated in Special Olympic fundraisers. One of the most popular and well known in the Capital District is the Polar Plunge, where hundreds of people plunge into Lake George on the third Saturday of November.

In a moment of insanity, I had signed up and participated in the plunge in 2011. Larry had a list of reasons why it was not going to be a joint effort: He needed to be on the shore to hold my bathrobe and towel. He needed to take pictures. He needed to drive me home as I would be too cold to handle the wheel. He didn’t want to take the spotlight away from “my” event. Maybe he had more common sense than the rest of us, or maybe he just didn’t know how to have fun. Within minutes of coming out of the water that first time, however, I swore to anyone with ear shot that I would never do it again. Our schedule in 2012 prevented repeat plunge, and I was thinking of finding another excuse for 2013 until……

In a second moment of insanity, I committed to participate in the 2013 event. I rejoined Freezin’ Friends, a team of plungers headed by Joni, whose son Nick participated in several Special Olympic events, including our track and field program. It was time for me to again raise money to support athletes like Nick

In the middle of September, I began a fundraising blitz, mostly through emails and Facebook. The response was overwhelming. I had pledges from family and friends across the country and even from England. Most pledged on line, but many others handed me checks or cash, commenting “Better you than me!” and “Boy, you are brave!” By the day of the plunge, our team had raised close to $5000, and the region total was approaching $77,000.

By this time, you would think that I would be mentally and physically ready to dive back into Lake George. I hadn’t died the first time; my heart had held out; I didn’t even catch a cold. But in the days leading up to the plunge, I had nightmares about going into a freezing lake. In addition, this year I was going to top what I had started in 2011. In my first year, most of my supporters congratulated me and praised my bravery for plunging up to my neck. However, a few people kiddingly questioned as if I had ever gone in the lake, as my hair was still dry and the water droplets on my body didn’t show well on the photos. This time, I was going to make sure that pictures showed a soaked bathing suit and a wet head so that no one would doubt my commitment.

We were fortunate with the weather. The morning of the plunge was a beautiful, sunny, calm day, with air temperatures in the fifties. Larry and I stopped at the registration desk and then headed down to Shepard’s Park Beach. Over my bathing suit, I had flannel pants, a thermal shirt, my Polar Plunge sweatshirt, and a warm terry bathrobe. Under my water shoes were heavy woolen socks. I found Joni in her traditional Dr. Seuss hat she had worn for each of the seven plunges in which she previously participated. I recognized most of my teammates from 2011, a mix of Neil’s family, friends, and Special Olympics coaches. In addition, a large group of students from Schuylerville High School had signed up for the fundraiser to support Nick their classmate. Joni provided all thirty members of the team with a choice of colors in Santa hats.

Several other teams of plungers were also on the beach, including Max’s Buddies, Freeze Duchenne, Brian’s Bashers, and the Siena men’s baseball team. We spent the next couple of hours munching on bagels, sipping hot coffee, taking pictures, and connecting with members of our team and the other plungers. Several were in costume: capes, polar bear hats, boas, and, in the case of one man, a skimpy beige bikini bathing suit. “My Miley Cyrus look,” he explained.

At ten minutes before noon, all the plungers stripped down to their bathing suits. Shivering despite the warm sun, we lined up to wait for the signal to hit the water. At exactly twelve noon, led by three athletes holding the Special Olympics torch, over five hundred and fifty crazies—including me— streamed into Lake George.

As my ankles hit the water, I faced my first obstacle. As our team was near the end of the line, we were going into the lake when the members of the Siena men’s baseball team were coming out. Fast. Blindly, with no concern for who was in their way. I darted through hurling bodies until I found a clear spot in the water, took a deep breath, and dove in, orange Santa hat and all.

OH MY GOD! Why didn’t I remember it was this cold! I immediately thought of those poor people on the Titanic. I had visions of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack clinging onto the edge of the makeshift raft that held Kate Winslet’s Rose. I could not get out of the water fast enough. I ran onto the sand, hair and body dripping, searching desperately for Larry and, more importantly, my bathrobe and towel. As soon as I found him, I asked, “Did you get a picture?” Larry said yes, but I must have had ice in my ears. I didn’t hear him and headed back into the water for a second totally unnecessary photo opportunity.

I have to say that the second plunge that day wasn’t as bad as the first time. Maybe the sun had warmed my body. Or I was so numb I couldn’t tell the difference. Larry took a couple of more pictures, and I was finally able to head for the women’s warming tent, where I quickly changed into dry clothes. We drove back to Clifton Park with the car’s heater going full blast.

Later that afternoon, Larry and I talked about the plunge over large bowls of steaming chicken and rice noodle soup at a local Chinese restaurant. “Next year, I need to wear a different bathing suit and a pair of shorts as those pictures I posted on Facebook are just too embarrassing,” I said. “And maybe if I start fundraising earlier, I can raise more money.”

Larry nodded, “Let’s just see what happens with our schedule next year.”

I was not able to plunge in 2014, and by 2015, we had moved to Florida. Joni emailed me in October to ask kiddingly if I would like to come up north to participate, but I declined. Not surprisingly, there are no polar plunges in Central Florida. Maybe an alligator wrestling fundraising event? We’ll have to wait and see.