Pickleball Points

I get my ideas for this pickleball column from conversations intermingled among the laughter and chatter on the pickleball court.

This week, I met four players who I mentally nicknamed Regular, Tall, Really Tall and Tallest. Regular and Tallest both had suffered injuries the first time they played pickleball. I don’t know about their specific injuries, but incorrect footwear, horsing around, and a center of gravity higher than your brain remembers are normally the three culprits.

But you can do something about all three of them: Only play in shoes certified for tennis or pickleball. They are engineered for better traction, with their tread and material. Now, I know some of you hardheads will ignore this warning, so I hope your heads are harder than the court surface when those two meet.

Simply by beginning to play pickleball with other beginners, you typically will begin to lose extra weight. I worked at staying fit all my life, and might add that, besides a pulled muscle here or there, the only serious injuries I ever received from my six decades playing tennis was a badly sprained ankle, a painful tennis elbow and an autoimmune attack while playing in the National 45s Tennis Championships.

I have noticed that many pickleballers always drive back to their hometowns to visit their doctors. I did that as well, but soon discovered that we have some good, very bright, doctors, nurses and physical therapists here in these coastal communities.

I’m sure you are asking how a pickleball guru can judge if the doctors are bright. My response to that is: because they proved it when they gave up the hectic life of big city practices to come here to smell the roses and salt air.

When I was discussing this article with a friend, he said that he found he had to search to find a top-notch doctor. I agreed but pointed out that it probably required the same rigorous search in Baltimore and Philadelphia. And once he even found the best doctor, he still got the bum’s rush out the seven-minute revolving door.

Maybe it has something to do with local docs and health practitioners seeing how active we, as a group, are. Despite our advanced ages, playing pickleball 10 to 15 hours a week strengthens us, and the collective laughter leaves us in a great frame of mind. They see firsthand how fit pickleballers are, versus our age, and I’m sure they cringe when we say, “I’m in better shape than you, Doc!”

You might even make the argument that our practitioners are good because of our collective injuries. I would respond that’s probably correct, but only because there are so very many of us pickleballers. But one needs to balance those few pickleball injuries with fewer meds, happier camper and 9.7 years longer life if there is any truth to the study in the Mayo Clinic proceedings I reported on last May in the Coastal Point, “Healthy pickles live almost a decade longer.” (Use the search function at CoastalPoint.com and input Pickleball to find previous columns.)

Well, I finally got a green light to smartly return to the court this past week, from both my podiatrist and physical therapist. I’ve given great accolades in the past few years to physical therapist Bob Cairo at Tidewater as he steered this old body through the tribulations of a life on tennis courts before pickleball — two full knee replacements and one hip replacement.

I suffered an Achilles injury several years ago, because I had not adequately strengthened my legs prior to returning to tournament pickleball. That Achilles injury never quite healed, and Cairo sent me to Doc Ray Feehery, a local podiatrist, and he was literally able to get me back on my feet.

While doing his measurements, he discovered one leg was shorter than the other — probably the result of my multiple joint replacements — and leveled me up with orthotics. I walked out of his practice without pain.

As I was waiting the first time to see the foot doc, I had a “wow” moment. I noted that Doc Feehery got his master’s degree in biomechanics in 1976, just a few years after I was one of a small group invited to a symposium held by Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus exercise machines.

Among the handful invited was Dr. Stanley Plagenhoef, who was a major researcher in biomechanics and wrote “Pattern of Human Motion: Cinematographic Analysis.” We became good friends, and I enjoyed his excitement in his analysis of the movement of the human body in sport. Another of our little posse and another friend, Dr. Robert Nirschl, led the research on tennis elbow.

It never occurred to me then that their research would later help heal this old body.

(Me? Why was I invited? Somebody had to drive.)

Back to my point this week: If I had gone to a big-city doc, I fear they might have thought, or even wrote, that this old geezer only needs to get between his recliner and the refrigerator for a beer, which would be followed by the 7-minute revolving door as it hit my butt. Now that our local health practitioners have healed me, it’s now in my court to be very smart about my return to the pickleball courts, and very smart about my exercises and stretching before and after.

One last pickleball tip: If you stretch — I mean really stretch — and wear proper court footwear, you will likely not experience one of those early-days injuries. But when you need them, give the local health practitioners a trial run. I think you will be pleased. And make it a royal moment by telling them the Baron at Coastal Point, a community newspaper, sent you.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.