Pickleball offers golden opportunity
WHERE TO PLAY
Douglas County Community & Senior Center:
Senior open play, 1-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Fridays; 10-11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursdays.
Silver State Athletic Center:
Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon.
USA Pickleball Association:
Debbie Vanegas Gillies was simply looking for a fun activity to pursue when she was introduced to the sport of pickleball in 2014.
Well, the Minden woman is celebrating her 61st birthday today as a gold medal winner at the recent USA Pickleball Association National Championships held in Casa Grande, Ariz. Vanegas Gillies teamed with Mandy Holleman and won five straight matches to capture the women’s 55-and-over 3.5 doubles gold medal on Nov. 5.
Pickleball — a sport that has evolved in the last 50 years from its origin as a family backyard game — can be described as a combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis. A pickleball court is similar to badminton and the 20-by-44 feet dimensions make it smaller than tennis, which lessens the need for running. Players use a solid paddle and plastic ball that has holes (like a whiffle ball) and the net is hung at 34 to 36 inches.
More important, if you ask Vanegas Gillies, is an enjoyment of the game that goes beyond wins and losses.
“I got into it because it was fun,” she said, adding that she was introduced to the sport by her brother, Ben Vanegas. “To me, a lot of people can benefit from pickleball. It’s a very healthy activity for the older generation. And anyone of any age can play … we’ve played with people 6 to 96.”
She added that part-time South Lake Tahoe resident Ron Schmeck earned a bronze medal in men’s 85-and-over singles bracket and silver medal in 80-and-over doubles at the national tournament.
Vanegas Gillies and Holleman only met for the first time when they paired up for the national tournament.
“We just seemed to mesh well,” Vanegas Gillies said.
They displayed competitive mettle in two wins over Linda Smith and Sonie Lee — 11-6 and 12-10 in the semifinals and 11-8, 11-7 in the finals.
“We were down 10-6 and just decided it was time to get down to business … they didn’t get another point,” Vanegas Gillies said of the 12-10 semifinal match-clinching win.
Holleman, a former school teacher and coach in Cleburne, Texas, began playing pickleball in 2016. She had a background as a tennis player, plus she coached tennis, basketball, volleyball as well as track and field at Cleburne High School.
“I was a tennis player growing up,” Holleman told the Cleburne Times Review newspaper in an interview this month. “I played all kinds of sports, but I had a friend that invited me to come try pickleball. I was hooked. It doesn’t matter what size, shape or age you are. The game can be for everyone.”
Vanegas Gillies said promoting pickleball is more important than winning or losing any match.
“We’re trying to promote pickleball in our area,” she said.
Among the local options, to name a few, are indoor facilities at the Douglas County Community & Senior Center, Silver State Athletic Center in Carson City, and the Multi-Purpose Athletic Center in Carson City. An outdoor court is located at Johnson Lane Park.
Pickleball has provided benefits that exceeded the 42 years Vanegas Gillies played softball.
“I’m more fit now than I ever was when I played softball,” she said.
Her husband, Chuck Gillies, took up pickleball as part of his recovery from a pulmonary embolism in 2012.
“It’s very therapeutic,” he said. “I’ve lost weight, my blood pressure is down and it’s brought my stamina back.
“And this is a social sport. Even as competitive as it is, we spend a lot of time laughing.”