Story by Pamela A. Keene
Photos by Scott Rogers
Pickleball is taking the recreational sports world by storm, especially for older people who have been active tennis players and who want to slow the pace a bit. Pickleball is catching on with younger people, too. It’s not uncommon to see young adults playing with their grandparents.
“Pickleball has become very popular for us here at Lanier Village,” says Gwen Hart, one of the organizers of pickleball play at the resort retirement community located in Gainesville on Lake Lanier. “In fact, we don’t really play much tennis anymore; pickleball has taken over.”
Pickleball has been around since the mid-1960s as a family sport that’s played on a doubles badminton-sized court with markings similar to a tennis court. The net is 36 inches at the side and 34 inches in the middle. Players use lightweight paddles and a plastic perforated ball.
Gwen played tennis for many years. When she and her husband Barry moved to Lanier Village from Keowee Key, South Carolina, she became involved in the community’s pickleball program.
It’s an easy game to learn and is more forgiving than tennis. “You don’t have to move as much, but it helps to have good hand-eye coordination,” she says. “The pace is slower than tennis and it’s competitive and fun. Most of us are touch players who focus on placement on the court.”
Players sign up to play with various partners in the early mornings, then have open play every afternoon. About 35 residents are regular players and they range in age from the early 60s to the 90s.
“I’ve always played sports,” says the former paramedic who is native New Yorker. “And the nice thing about it is that you can be out there and be competitive, then go together for coffee.” She is also an active bridge player, both contract and duplicate versions.
Gwen and Barry have nine children and 15 grandchildren who live in various parts of the country. They’ve been married 61 years. “Lanier Village is the perfect place for us,” she says. “There are so many things to do here, from pickleball to swimming, brain games to corn hole, golf putting to water volleyball, book clubs to arts and crafts. We even have line dancing; it’s really hard to get bored around here.”
She says that many members of the community play pickleball just for fun, but there is an annual intraclub competition among the residents, with players paired randomly with partners. Additionally, Lanier Village also competes with other ACTS Retirement Life Communities in the Southeast. The OlympiACTs tournament takes place each November.
“I really like to play for fun, but I also really enjoy setting up for the competitions here,” she says. “We don’t have a competitive ladder here, so it’s very affable. And it’s good exercise and a good way to keep in touch with friends.”