Marina never imagined that taking up a sport later in life would mean being able to give up her walking stick, let alone break into a run on a sports court.

But when Ms Haralambous, who had been living in excruciating pain after being crippled by Parkinson’s disease four years ago, took up the little-known sport of pickleball two years ago, it changed her life.

Ms Haralambous is now on the board of the Pickleball Association of NSW (PANSW) as tournament organiser.

A woman stands on a court marked up for pickleball.

Marina Haralambous played in the 65+ women’s doubles at the NSW Open Pickleball Championship 2021 in April.(

Supplied: Vasili Haralambous

)

Before pickleball gave her a new lease on life, she had been building up her stamina and trying to manage her pain by taking daily walks with her sister.

“I was walking with a walking stick, and I could hardly walk because I had a very painful foot brought on by Parkinson’s,” said Ms Haralambous, who is a member of Ryde Pickleball in the Park.

She credits the sport — a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton played on a badminton-sized court — for getting her moving again.

She now plays morning rounds of pickleball five or six times a week.

“I’ve become a different person,” she said.

“I no longer need a walking stick and people say when I walk they can’t even notice I have Parkinson’s.

“It’s just done absolute wonders for me.”

A group of elderly neighbours meet daily for friendly rounds of pickleball

Ms Haralambous (centre) says she loves the community of friends she’s made by playing pickleball five or six days a week.(

Supplied: Vasili Haralambous

)

‘Improved quality of life’

Alyson Blanks, an exercise psychologist from Parkinson’s NSW, agrees pickleball is a “great sport” for people with the disease.

“It combines all the recommended modes of exercise and makes it fun,” she said.

“All of these benefits lead to an improved quality of life.” 

Four pickleball players congratulate each other on having had a good game.

Played on a badminton-sized court, pickleball is described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong.(

ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss

)

Jenny Young, from northern Wollongong, says she is also reaping the benefits of pickleball after taking up the sport when friends recommended it following her Parkinson’s diagnosis.

She has just started playing but says that already, after just a few games, she is feeling improvements in her co-ordination and movement.

“When you are struggling with something, and it’s early days for me with Parkinson’s, there’s a lot going on in your mind and you want to be doing things that you can exceed in, have fun and be in a supportive environment.

Jenny Young finishes a round of pickleball.

Jenny Young has early signs of Parkinson’s but doesn’t feel her hands shaking when she plays pickleball.(

ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss

)

Is pickleball for you?

If you love playing tennis, ping pong or badminton, but feel that the courts are too big or the ball is too fast, pickleball, invented in the US in 1965,  might just be the sport for you.

The NSW regional representative and vice president of Pickleball NSW, Sandra Capperwauld, says the game encourages success and people improve very quickly.

Indoor pickleball's are green

A pickleball court has a tennis-height net and players use a solid paddle to hit a plastic ball the size of a tennis ball.(

ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss

)

Ms Capperwauld suggests that people who are older, or perhaps those who have had knee reconstructions, might find that they can play pickleball more comfortably than other sports.

“It certainly appeals to the older generation, although younger people pick up those paddles and are just as successful so quickly,” she said.

Like Ms Haralambous and Ms Young,  Ms Capperwauld loves playing pickleball because friendships made on the court are a vitally important component of the experience.

“I made lots of new friends and I love the competitiveness, although there are times when it’s just a whole lot of fun.”

Good friends, good exercise, good fun

A young woman with straight black hair and a navy top stands outside a PCYC building, smiling

Maddison Holz is the club manager at PCYC Bulli.(

ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss

)

Last month, when Pickleball NSW held its 2021 open tournament in Sydney, the organisers anticipated 100 players would attend. They got double that, with 197 contestants showing up, demonstrating the sport’s growing popularity.

Indoor and outdoor venues and community groups across the country, such as the Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC), are embracing the sport.

PCYC Bulli club manager Maddison Holz said the centre now had pickleball after local couple Mike and Julie Boyce asked about it.

“Mike had all the equipment, so asked if he could hire out the courts,” Ms Holz said.

Mr Boyce now marks the courts up one day a week so he and a group of his friends can play. 

“Bulli PCYC said we could mark the courts with tape, so each week, I do that.

“It’s like a painter’s masking tape and is possibly a trip hazard for basket ballers, so we have offered to contribute towards the cost of making it permanent here so others can play too.” 

Four people on the court stay within the fresh blue lines

Each week, a growing number of people from the northern beaches of Wollongong gather in Bulli to play pickleball. (

ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss

)

Ms Holz said if the community showed enough support and demand for the sport, the PCYC would get the courts marked permanently.

Ms Capperwauld says the sport’s growing popularity is great and urges players across the state to make sure their teams are registered with Pickleball NSW.

‘I’ve become a different person’: How pickleball is changing the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease
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