Marlborough – Trudy Durand had played tennis for more than 60 years before she picked up a new sport last summer – pickleball
At 85, Durand is one of the oldest members of a group of people of diverse ages who play pickleball at Ward Park and the Fore Kicks sports complex in Marlborough. The group now has 150 members and plays every day of the week except Sundays. They have also branched out beyond their Marlborough courts in recent years, sending members to tournaments across New England.
Using wooden paddles to hit a plastic ball back and forth over a short net, pickleball game-play closely resembles that of other sports like badminton or tennis. However, it involves a smaller playing area and, as a result, less movement by the players.
“You don’t have as much ground to cover so you’re not really running; you’re taking two or three steps or less to play so it’s not as hard on the legs,” said the club’s ambassador to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) Dave Brower. “Also, for the tennis players, the serve is underhand so those people with rotator cuff issues from tennis don’t have the same issues with pickleball because you serve from below the waist.”
Karin Houghton, who is younger than most of the club members and plays tennis, ultimate Frisbee and soccer in addition to pickleball, noted that the sport still offers competition while not physically straining players.
“A lot of them [the other members] were serious athletes when they were younger but as
your body gets older, you’re not as agile as you used to be,” she said. “But this is not as invasive on your body parts and it can still be competitive.”
Beyond the competitive spirit of the game, members appreciate the social nature of pickleball.
“When you’re not playing, you’re chatting,” Brower said. “You get to meet other people and get to know them.”
Off the court, the group hosts a holiday potluck as well as other cookouts and get-togethers throughout the year. Especially for its members who are retired, Houghton said the group offers connection and community to people who may need it.
But the group is not solely composed of retired people or even senior citizens. On just one day in November, Durand, 85, was playing on the same court as another club member and his son. Brower said there have been times where the age groups have been even more scattered, recalling a period during summer play when a high school student became a member for about one month.
“It’s becoming like golf where it’s a life sport that you can play at all different points in your life,” Houghton said. “You can get your butt kicked by an 80-year-old who is teaching you how to play.”
As in the case of the group’s former teenage member, the Ward Park pickleball group offers lessons to newcomers on how to play. Once a person knows how to play, they can begin to have success in a relatively short period of time.
“We have people that have never hit a tennis ball or racquetball or any of those sports but they come out and start to play [pickleball] and we teach them,” said club member Carol Walsh. “It’s very easy to learn and it’s a lot of great exercise.”
The Ward Park pickleball group is open to new members on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Fore Kicks in Marlborough. For more information, visit www.wardparkpball.org.