Mental Health, Pickleball

Pickleball Saved My Life

Pickleball Saved My Life
Published: 2022-05-06
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Not from literal death, but from a life where I would not have known the joys of being an athlete. Again, not a literal athlete, if that means I am training for the Olympics or I am paid to play, but an athlete in my own right, from my own definition*.

I used to be 350 pounds. I have lost 200 of them- and by lost, I mean gone-gone. I used to call my body: ‘a vehicle to transport my brain’. Now, I see my brain as an essential part of what my body is doing on the pickleball court.

I grew up in a household that frowned upon sweating. Sweating was for those not smart enough to read at recess. I wanted to be smart, so I read a lot and did not move at all. Not smart, it turns out.

Developing your mental capacity, but not your physical one, is like deciding of your own volition to remove one of your senses. You will speak but not hear or see, or smell. What a weird decision.

I’ve lived my whole life avoiding moving as much as possible with sporadic bouts of fitness classes, coerced by a concerned friend into joining them- twice. And I would immediately go back to my dwarfed experience of life where movement was avoided at all costs.

Until a July morning of 2021, the 29th to be precise, with the outside temperature of 109º in our newly found home in the middle of nowhere, Arizona, I walked onto a pickleball court for the first time.

I had never even heard the word ‘pickleball’ before. From the look of it, ping-pong, badminton, and tennis had a child and called it pickleball. It involved a net, a paddle, and some weird-looking neon color ball.

Every court had four players, except one with only two. I marched onto that one and asked them if they could teach us the rudimentary rules. Little did I know, these two were presidents of the club and 4.0 players finishing what I found out later is called a ‘skinny single’ game. [Not something you want to interrupt]

We were lucky. They were kind. Well, they are Canadians, so kinder than most. They gave us a tour of this mysterious sport we’d never heard of. I understood most of it, scoring seemed unnecessarily complicated, but otherwise, I get it, send the ball to the other side of the net, and get the opponent to not return the ball. No big deal.

I come from a mother who played golf almost every day growing up. Pickleball looked way simpler. Our Canadian initiators played a game with us before returning to their grown-up version and we kicked the ball around another hour and left.

But something had changed. I could feel it. I was sweating and didn’t mind. I was excited about what I’d learned and wanted to talk about it. More importantly, I wanted to come back the next day. Heck, later that same day.

I went home and YouTubed the daylights out of it. The history. The gear. The rules. How had I never heard of it? The fastest-growing sport in the country? Granted, I never cared about sports, I did not hang with people who cared about sports, so it made sense that it never crossed my path until that day.

And then, my reticular activating system* did what it’s supposed to do. I started hearing about pickleball multiple times a day. People randomly started telling me about it. I did not know the extent of it yet, but I was hooked. Yep. Addicted. Think of it, talk about it, read all that was ever written about it, and play multiple times a day.

Maybe it is a little far to say that my whole life has become about pickleball but not that far. I have added the missing dimension of feeling alive in my body, solid, grounded, and strong. I sleep better. I eat better. I have more energy than ever before.  

I get it now. I take back every single judgment I’ve held against people who are committed to their sport. I’ve become one of them.

I was doing the math the other day, but yes- what I'm about to say is true…I have moved more- in a sporty kind of way- in the past year than I have in my entire life strung together. Never too late to start the journey.

*athlete from my definition:

I play every day [minus 6 days this year- Covid ridden]

I wake up at dawn excited to go play

I cross-train to better my game

I have trainers, coaches, and neuroscientists on my team

*reticular activation system: part of your brain that has you notice every car on the planet of the brand you want to buy next

Bio: Soph Chiche is an ex-obese human who recently discovered sports- pickleball specifically. And what a discovery. In her fifties, with a successful career as a psychologist, coach, writer, and entrepreneur, she has finally added the B-word to the mind, body, and soul connection.

Which is missing the fourth leg, by the way- mind, body, feelings, and soul