Richard Claxon usually plays pickleball three or four times a week – as long as his knees can stand it.
He is joined by former tennis players, exercise enthusiasts and those simply seeking a good time. They are all generally above the age of 50, although anyone is welcome to play.
“It’s a tremendous sport for older people,” Claxon, 72, said. He began playing a year ago and sees the game not only as exercise, but also as a social outlet.
Pickleball, a racquet sport similar to tennis, but played with “overgrown ping pong paddles” and a whiffle ball, originated in Washington State in 1965. The USA Pickleball Association calls it a “highly contagious, progressive and incurable disease” and estimates that there are between 40,000 and 50,000 “infected people” worldwide. The game is named after a founder’s cocker spaniel, Pickles, who would take the ball and run with it whenever it came his way.
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Pickleball is played in multiple locations in Wake County, including several in Cary, the Brier Creek Community Center, the Optimist Park Community Center and the City of Raleigh’s Five Points Center for Active Adults.
“There are a lot of active seniors looking for exercise, comradery, excitement – it fits the bill,” said pickleball player Marilyn Sorin, 70. “There are a lot of active seniors that don’t enjoy bingo.”
In addition to its fun factor, pickleball addresses a subject with more serious undertones: the health of older adults. In North Carolina, almost 32 percent of adults 65 and older do not participate in leisure-time physical activity, according to a report released this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ellen Schneider, a researcher with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said exercise is “extremely important” for older adults for several reasons. Benefits of exercise include lowering blood pressure, decreasing depression, maintaining mental sharpness, preventing or delaying disease, addressing balance problems and decreasing social isolation. Exercise also helps prevent falls, she said, which are the leading cause of injury deaths for older adults.
“Anything you can do to increase exercise and decrease social isolation contributes to healthy aging,” Schneider said.
Sheryl Schuff, 64, moved to the area from Indiana two and a half years ago. She began playing pickleball last spring. Since then, she said, she has made many new friends and is in the best shape she has been in for decades.
“When you’re having fun and you’re exercising, you’re likely to do more of it,” she said.
Sorin, who first learned to play the game in Arizona three years ago, said pickleball has gained popularity throughout the state in the past year. She hopes for even more growth.
“It’s movin’ and groovin’ fast,” she said.