Pickleball Points

Tired of the quarantine? Let’s take a break this week and laugh a little.

Laughter is an important ingredient in pickleball. More than a decade ago, I played in the Men’s 45 Doubles in the National Grass Courts Tennis Championships. The other guys kept calling me “Dad.” I was unique because I was then 65 — 20 years older than most of my opponents. My partner was 45 and had been a coach of Austrian Thomas Muster, who reached the No. 1 position in the world in tennis singles.

My partner was nationally ranked, but we had to work around my lack of mobility from years of running on hard tennis courts. I was having trouble with my knee, and it was even then suggested I have knee-replacement surgery.

I was expecting to play our first match about 1 p.m., when suddenly our match was called two hours early. I had to get quickly warmed up, so I grabbed my gear and ran over to a far corner of the Germantown Cricket Club, where I ducked down behind shrubbery and began to stretch my way through the pain.

As I was trying to rush my way through my routine, an official and several players suddenly appeared — their heads just above the shrubs were all I could see from my perspective on my back on the ground behind the shrubbery. They jokingly asked if they should call 911 for a helicopter and paramedics. They told me I was making so much noise that they had wandered over to see what was happening behind the shrubbery.

I laughed and then joined my partner on the court. On the soft, cushioned grass, we played well. I refused to sit on the changeovers, and my younger opponents said I was trying to psych them out.

Oh, they had so much more to learn about getting old. Unfortunately, we soon ran into the top ranked team in the country, but we managed to win the consolation tournament.

Fast-forward a decade, I was working out at Sea Colony on a stationary bike in their gym as part of the rehab on my new replacement knee. Yes, a decade of unnecessary pain. The objective of the rehab after knee surgery is to break down the scar tissue formed from surgery, and the bike is helpful in both warming up the knee and improving flexibility. Depending on where you set the seat, the first three minutes on the bike is painful, but then it gets easier and the knee loosens.

My daily game plan was to put on a headset to listen to a novel to help pass the time and divert my attention from the pain. One afternoon, a beautiful young girl suddenly appeared and was standing off to my left. I took off my headset, as she was trying to tell me something.

What was she saying? Oh, that’s it. She said I was a fine male specimen, and was offering me her phone number.

Well, that’s what I thought I heard, but then she repeated herself.

“Are you OK, sir? I thought you were having a heart attack.”

After that experience, I figured I had better have my doc check out my knee, and I booked a follow-up the following week. If she was a slap on the left cheek, he was a slap on the right.

“We are putting you in knee manipulation as soon as possible — today!” “What? A knee what? You do remember what a sissy I am, right?”

Well, in less than 48 hours, while I was counting sheep, he was crunching on that bad-boy knee, breaking down the scar tissue from the surgery. As soon as I awoke, I had normal range of motion in my knee. It was amazing. Then, they sent me to their physical therapist, who had arms the size of my waist. I told him I probably would regret it, but to “Give me your best shot.” He flexed his muscles and told me he loved the challenge.

I should have told him I had a history of screaming like a schoolgirl at a concert, because he put my knee where it hasn’t been since my teenage years. Scream I did, but that’s what it took. Several female patients being treated in the room looked over, and one quickly exited their practice.

“It looks like you’re bad for business” he said.

Fast-forward two more weeks, and my wife and I were at a resort, the Homestead, where I could alternate between the hot mineral springs and their top-notch gym equipment. I spent hours each day in the gym, listening to my novel in my headset, and attempting to continue improving the flexibility in my knee.

When my wife came looking for me in the gym, the others working out in the gym that day looked up when she opened the entrance door, and without smiling, all pointed to the back corner where, with my earphones, I was working out at my max velocity, on apparently max volume.

I asked her how she knew I was in the back room of the gym. She told me, as everyone continued to stare, that everyone in the gym heard me grunting and yelling as I went through my exercises.

The point this week is that I thought you might just need a laugh.

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.