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How Pickleball Helps Parkinson’s Sufferers

News Stacie Townsend 06-24-2021

Pickleball is a game that has many benefits for all ages and skill levels.

It is a great way to remain fit and socially active, it can be competitive, and most of all, it is a fun way to relax. Pickleball is not just a sport, but it is a community promoting wellness, health and ultimately, extreme fun. Who knows, you might even be good enough to qualify for the National Championship and win a trophy.

Whilst competition is one aspect of the game, it is also heartening to hear of pickleball being used for the greater good. One such story is that of Pickleball for Parkinson’s, a pay-to-play fundraiser in aid of the Michael J Fox Foundation. For those who do not know, Michael J Fox is the star of the Back to the Future movies, diagnosed as having Parkinson’s after experiencing symptoms during the filming of Doc Hollywood in 1991. Since then, he has starred in films such as Life with Mikey and Stuart Little.

Fox was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and several of his movies have been converted into video games as well as hitting the cinema. Back to the Future have seen interpretations across 8-bit and 16-bit machines, with the most recent coming to console in 2011, according to Futurepedia. He is not just known for playing Marty McFly on digital media though: Foxy Games explains how Mars Attacks, in which he plays news reporter Jason Stone, was also made into a popular video game, as was Stuart Little. It is unlikely we’ll see any new characters from him though; he retired from acting for a second time in 2020 due to the onset of his Parkinson’s symptoms, although he continues to fight the disease.

Pickleball is an unlikely weapon right at the forefront of that fight. Lesly Wagner is a driving force behind Pickleball for Parkinson’s, inspired by her friend Wendy. Lesly is a pickleball coach at the Guilford Racquet and Swim Club in Connecticut, and when her friend Wendy was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s, she had an idea. Wendy was keen on tennis and a former Division I college player who wished to remain active.

“Pickleball is very similar to tennis but a little easier on the body,” says Lesly. “It’s a great way to keep Wendy involved. With Parkinson’s, you have to be active to keep yourself going. But it’s harder to do that.” Luckily, pickleball is a sport in which Wendy can participate to a decent level without problems. “We don’t take it easy on her,” added Lesly. “We may have to help her tie her shoe, but as soon as she has the paddle in her hand, it’s competitive.”

Pickleball is not just a good fundraiser for the Michael J Fox Foundation; it is also a sport that plays a vital role in improving the quality of life for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Barry Beitsinger is a 70-year-old who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014, and his wife spoke of how the game had helped him remain fit. “Pickleball allowed him to stay off of meds for about a year or so, and because it keeps him moving, it keeps his symptoms at bay,” said Laurel Beitsinger.

Why pickleball, rather than other sports? Not only does it combine hand and eye coordination, but it does so with simple movements rather than lung-busting dashes across the courts. That helps those diagnosed with the disease remain competitive with their symptoms and continue to live a normal life.

Whether you have been diagnosed and want to keep active, or whether you loved Back to the Future and Teen Wolf and would like to support Michael J Fox’s foundation, pickleball could be the sport for you.

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