Nationals

Last week the 6th annual pickleball national tournament took place in Buckeye, Arizona. Over 800 players came from all over the country and competed in dozens of events. It was pretty cool to see this sport that I always thought was on the fringes actually becoming mainstream and succeeding. Being on the upward trend of a movement like that is kind of cool.

The best part of the week came on the last day, when I played in the Men’s Open Singles event. After winning the 19+ singles event  earlier in the week, I did get the #1 seed but as any tennis player will tell you, that doesn’t mean anything. You’re only as good as your next match. Fortunately, I got through the tournament, winning the gold in a great final against Wesley Gabrielson. In the second game, he was up 7-4 and I was having nightmares of him coming back and beating me in the third set. There was professional camera equipment and announcers commentating on the game (I’m interested to hear what they had to say) making it all very official. I will post the video when it comes out. My dad won the Senior Open Men’s Singles event as well, it was great to get a double win.

IMG_0317I always say this, but pickleball people really are the nicest in the world. I don’t miss the egos, the cheating, the politics that playing tennis at the same level brings. I think pickleball is effectively branding itself as the chill alternative to tennis, still great exercise but much less stuffy and elitist.

Two other great things came from this tournament. First, I’ve officially decided to try to launch pickleball in Japan. My friend who works for a television network wants to get a TV program introducing the sport, interviewing me as the American national champion. Should be a lot of fun but watch out Americans, when the Asians get into pickleball your hopes of global pickleball dominance are over ;) The other was that I launched my own pickleball website around something I call the Paddletek Challenge. Anyone can challenge me in singles or my dad and I in doubles, if they beat us they get a free paddle of their choice :) Check out the website at www.paddletekchallenge.com

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Rooted and Unsettled

Over the last two weeks I’ve been traveling around the Midwest and Texas, playing pickleball exhibition matches, giving lessons and selling paddles. I’ve driven over 2,000 miles and worked 7 days a week. It’s been a fruitful, tiring and long trip.

As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten to reconnect with my extended family across the region. I’ve stayed with aunts & uncles, second cousins, first cousins once removed – you name it. I love getting to meet these people as an adult, learning about how I’m connected to them and the interesting tidbits about our family tree.

It’s fascinating to me how rooted my family is in the United States. For at least 5 or 6 generations on each side, my entire family was born here. That goes back into at least the 1800s. Many have been here much longer than that. I have slave-owning ancestors in Georgia. There are abolitionists Arkansas. As legend has it, I have native American blood from Oklahoma. I get the sense of being rooted here, like I should belong because my family has so much history.

So what the heck happened to me? I barely qualify as American and although I have history, when asked where I’m from I don’t always answer America. It’s more complicated than that. I often wish for the simplicity of being from a single place. I wish I could be content never leaving, able to invest my life somewhere. I would know people, have unquestioning resolve in what I believe and listen to the global news with a concerned but uninvolved interest. I wouldn’t have any skin in the game. I wouldn’t have to answer the question, “Where should I live?” because it would be answered for me and other questions like “what should I do” and “who should I marry” would follow easily. When eating a banana in America I wouldn’t have to think about how much better it was in Africa. Life would certainly be simpler being from one place; not necessarily better, just simpler. Yet for one reason or another, that is not my story.

It makes me think of this quote:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

It is hard knowing people around the world. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything - It’s now on my bucket list to know someone from every single country. People are the same everywhere, but the hardships and struggles that they have overcome in some places are baffling. After hearing those stories, you can’t ever go back to not caring about what happens in other places.

One last comment. I recently listened to a book called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from Nigeria. What a cool name. Anyway, it made me laugh thinking about the funny quirks of Africa and how similar African cultures are. It also made me think about what it means to be an immigrant and the value of knowing more than one place. I would definitely recommend it, as in many ways it mirrored my own experiences.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading

Pickleball in Middle America

For the past week, I have been traveling the midwest playing pickleball and giving clinics. As strange as it is to say, after winning prize money in a tournament I am now technically a professional pickleball player. People see me as the expert - they have even asked me to sign their paddles!

On this trip, I’ve played pickleball at all kinds of interesting places and met great people. In Kansas City they took 6 tennis courts and made them into 12 pickleball courts, holding a tournament with over 60 participants and letting me do a clinic. Topeka, Kansas has converted their public tennis courts into 10 dedicated pickleball courts and has plans to make 8 more. In St. Louis, they play in between the pits of a concrete horseshoe pitch at the International Horseshoe Hall of Fame. Edwardsville, Illinois uses an indoor roller-hockey rink. Pickleball is exploding across the country and it’s cool to get to be a part of the movement.

The Horseshoe Hall of Fame

The Horseshoe Hall of Fame

My impression of the midwest is that it’s not the greatest place (sorry, it’s kind of flat) but it has some of the nicest people I have ever met. People all over Kansas and Missouri took me in and welcomed me, almost like I was part of their family after just a couple of days. I went to one family’s house for pizza and the Royals game, I stayed with another guy I had never met and went out to dinner with several others. I’m sure there are people like that in Colorado, but they don’t seem quite as overtly friendly.

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Pickleball and beer in St. Louis

I’m now in Arkansas and I’m on to Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma for more pickleball! Keep following my blog to get updates, and check out pickleball at http://www.usapa.org to see what it’s all about. Also, check out Paddletek, the paddle company I am sponsored by and let me know if you are interested in playing pickleball or becoming an authorized dealer.

Here’s another video of me playing in Kansas City!