Okay, it’s storytime! I’m going to take you back to day 1… it’s relevant… trust me!
But before I start, let me share a sad truth… I didn’t pick up my first pickleball paddle until I was 38 years old! Pretty sad sounding life, I know. But… after almost 4 decades of waiting, the sun finally shined!
The Early Years
…or skip straight to The Pickleball Saga
In March of 1981, I was born in a not so sunny place called Canton, Ohio. I’m sure that city name instantly rings a bell for some of you, right?!
I played my fair share of backyard football and basketball (almost every day after school) with my brothers and neighborhood kids, but that’s as far as my passion went for these two major sports.
We played some other sports as well, and I loved pretty much every one of them (except baseball was a little too slow for me. ) I found that the sports that I loved the most were the more obscure sports.
We used to play volleyball at our church. I loved that. Dodgeball… I was the best of the best! I enjoyed playing ping pong in my basement at well as pool… or should I say billiards? Thanks, Dad, for buying those for us, and mom, for letting us take over your entire basement!
As I approached my freshman year of high school I felt like I should join an extracurricular team sport, so I chose… Running I think it’s cool for people who can do that but Track n Field was def NOT FOR ME! I was a really fast runner. Rarely would someone beat me in a race. I think it was because of my uncanny ability to run faster than I had strength… pushing beyond my internal governor, so I could win.
I remember our very first scrimmage when I got to put that to the test. I think I was doing some sort of sprinting event like the 800 meters. I don’t think I had properly conditioned my body or mind for that event. Not only did two other guys beat me in the race but I pushed myself so hard that I was dry heaving after it was over . Not awesome.
I’ve never been a “quitter” in life, and especially not in sports. My older brother, Matt, never would have allowed me to toss in the towel. But Track was one thing I quit… even before our first official track meet.
I cannot express the intense anxiousness that I would feel, with everything related to Track… the practice, the conditioning, and especially the competing. That was not for me.
I ended up getting into an elite choir group. Singing came naturally to me so I pursued that for my extracurricular exercise
I took an “organized sports” break for a couple of years, and started enjoying racquetball at our local country club and YMCA with my dad and brothers. Then, in my junior year I decided to follow Matt’s lead and try out for the tennis team. I made it! I was also the worst player on the team, but they let me on. I can’t remember winning a single match But I loved it. I loved the practice and noticing the ever so slight progress over the course of the season.
Then, as a senior in high school, I had to make the varsity cut or else I was out! By some miracle, I made the team. But I later discovered that my making the team had more to do with mercy than miracle! The coach knew how much I liked the game, and it was my last year in HS, and he knew if I didn’t make varsity that I couldn’t play tennis that year.
So it was actually mercy that got me on the varsity team. And I know this because I never did play an actual varsity game! Coach had me play JV games the entire season but I was technically on the varsity team! I’m pretty sure I still didn’t take home a single win that year. But I was grateful to be able to play.
This is getting long. I’m sorry!
So that was my background with sports. When I went off to college in Idaho, I started playing Ultimate Frisbee. And I got really into bowling, and then back into racquetball again.
There were two reasons I didn’t want to run another marathon. #1 the time it takes to training and prep, and #2 I hate running! Yes… I just couldn’t stand running. I did it to keep myself fit but it’s always been my least favorite physical activity. I never felt the “endorphins” or that “runner’s high” that people talk.
Sadly, I gamed my own system and would literally do absolutely ZERO physical exercise up until about one month before my half marathon for the year. Then I’d train hard… run the race… and be done until the next year!.
Funny side note… one year I didn’t sign up for a race, in time, before the year was almost over. There aren’t many races in Nov and Dec, here in Utah where I now live. So on about December 27th, I went to the local gym and ran 13.1 miles on a treadmill!! Can you believe it?!
Then, in 2017 my brother Matt, conned me into doing a Spartan trifecta! He tried for years to get me to join him but they always sounded too expensive and too hard. I would tell him I’m not interested in spending a bunch of money, just to put my body in pain!
It wasn’t until he convinced our mom to do a Spartan Super, that I decided to say yes.
If mom can do this, then I better get training, cuz I’m not letting her be out there alone! That one Spartan Super race in Mesquite, was the stepping stone for me to join Matt out at Breckenridge, CO where we did the Spartan Beast, and then the Spartan Sprint, the next day. It was brutal, but I got my first (and hopefully last) trifecta!
Also in 2017 my other brother, Jake, decided that after all his Spartan training, that he was almost there and that he was ready to do a full marathon. Nooooo! I was hoping he’d never take me up on my offer, from years before. He had started joining me on the half-marathon tradition every year and I told him that if he ever wanted to do a full marathon, that I’d run one more, with him! So that was it. We ran the Utah Valley Marathon. And I re-vowed to never run a full marathon, again!
So that was what my physical exercise looked like, for the past 8 years. What. A. Drag. I did it because I thought it was good for me… and because I set a goal… NOT because I loved it.
The Pickleball Saga
Then last year, around the time I was deciding which half marathon I was going to run, a great friend of mine named Dan Ison, reached out to me and told me that a group of people were meeting at a local church to learn this new sport that’s supposedly really fun. That was on March 14th, 2019, to be exact. This was the text he later sent me…
How could I ever have known that this simple text message would change my life?!
I thought it sounded kinda funny, but if you look at my history, all of my favorite sports were the ones that were a bit more obscure, like frisbee, racquetball, bowling, and ping pong. But I had also heard my boss mention something about this pickleball game, a year or so earlier so I had heard the word before.
And guess what!!?? It came with four really “high-quality” balls! So it cost about $65 for two paddles and four balls, and I bought them before I had even tried the game! What says “pickleball” better than a rockstar angel with wings, jamming on his guitar, with blasting speakers behind him!?
March 29, 2019 came, and it did not disappoint! I went with my buddy Dan, and his wife Amie, and our other friends Melissa and Paul. We all had such a crazy fun time and kept playing until we absolutely had to leave.
That. Was. It.
I was smitten.
Not by a fast drive, or a solid smash, but just by how enamored I was by this unique game that felt like life-sized ping pong! Or was it mini tennis?! I didn’t know. Nor did I care. I just couldn’t wait to play again.
Then we started going every single Tuesday and Thursday morning, at 6am, for the rest of the summer… until Dan broke his collarbone and couldn’t come anymore.
During April and May of 2019, we’d see others come and play doubles. We thought it looked kind of boring and didn’t seem like you get as much action.
It wasn’t until we started meeting others at the courts, that we gave doubles a shot. And the more YouTube videos we watched and the more we learned about doubles strategies, we were smitten all over again! But now, we were in love with playing doubles… despite our atrocious ability!
The thing I loved about pickleball was that I’ve never felt intimidated or overwhelmed. Even if someone is mauling me, I am still having fun. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain the rush I get, when someone is 14 feet away and hitting a ball as hard as they can, at me! But I can say that I’ve never encountered a sport or activity of any kind that got me so excited to get back out and play again, and again, and again.
From the beginning, even until this day, it’s hard for me to play less than 3 hours! Which is why I’m so grateful to have gotten more into playing doubles.
After a month of playing singles for 3-6 hours straight, my body (and especially my heels) was taking such a beating. I quickly contracted plantar fasciitis. But as soon as I started playing more doubles, and laying off the singles play, the woes of pickleball started to disappear!
We wanted to get better, but didn’t know where to find people to play with. It was hard getting started. We knew some better players but the only way we could play with them is if we knew they were doing a kings court ladder or something. We were always so grateful for those moments.
But for a while, it was just Dan and me. So we started sharing pickleball with people in our church congregation, and I couldn’t help talking about it with everyone that I met! I even recruited a really nice guy I met randomly at Ross (while looking for new pickleball shoes) to come join us, which he did!
We were consistent at running a Kings Court ladder from 6am till about 9am every day during the summer, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It got to the point, at the end of the summer, where we would have (on average) at least 12 to 16 people showing. That was epic!
One of the staples of pickleball, for us, has been the jams. Playing pickleball without music is like going to an exciting concert where the musicians never showing up! Fun music makes it always feel like a pickleball party. A social gathering with old friends, while we welcome the new ones!
Over the summer I slowly put together a pickleball playlist of upbeat tunes that we could jam to every morning while we play pickleball! Now there’s over 1,200 songs on the playlist, totaling over 71 hours!
One of my favorite early morning moments, in August, was when we were playing a kings court and this one lady who had started joining us got up to the kings court. By my good fortune, I had happened to be there as well, as her partner! She was wearing a bright blue Vulcan shirt, and here’s what I recorded, on Instagram, of my encounter with this kind gal:
“Hey… Vulcan… isn’t that the brand that sponsors Tyler Loong?!” At which point she blew me away and told me Tyler is her son! “NO WAY!!!” I was floored! I got to play with a celebrity, in my book! Shelly is the epitome of humility and grace… in character… and the way she plays! #ilovepickleball b/c it’s more than a game… it’s a culture of the most competitive, yet kind, people I’ve ever known!
Shelly has since become such a great friend to me.
I love how I’m now friends with older ladies and men that I likely may never have connected with, in almost any other setting. And it works on the younger spectrum as well. They’re in such a different stage of life than I am, with my 4 kids! But pickleball brings people together. Pickleball creates friendships that you never could have imagined.
In this digital age where our devices distract us from all the human beings right around us, I believe that pickleball has the ability to help us reconnect with each other in a very meaningful way. I see this happening every time I go and play.
I believe that pickleball does an exceptional job at meeting the physical, and social needs that more and more humans are lacking.
Pickleball has me working out 2-4 times per week.
Pickleball has helped me to get away from my screen and reconnect with real people in my community.
Pickleball has helped me make countless new friends whom I absolutely treasure.
I believe that pickleball can change the world. It truly has changed me.
Pickleball has the ability to make a dent in the universe, and I’ve found my calling.
I’m on a mission to help the world embrace this incredible “new” sport, and I hope that Pickleballist will be a tool that we can all use to help bring the pickleball community together, and make a dent in the universe!