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Published on March 08, 2019

Don't Judge a Game By Its Name

Two afternoons a week, you can find Jeffrey A. Luerding, MD, a family medicine physician with Meritas Health Gashland, on a local pickleball court, paddle in hand and having a blast.

He got hooked on America’s fastest growing sport when his friend, Dave Johnson, opened Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City about two years ago.

“We have a group that gets together on Saturdays for breakfast,” Dr. Luerding shared. “When Dave told us he was going to open a pickleball court and call it Chicken N Pickle, we told him he was crazy and that it would never work. We’d never heard of pickleball. Nobody in the Midwest knew was pickleball was.” Two years later, North Kansas City is full of picklers, and Chicken N Pickle is wildly popular.

Pickleball Explained

Pickleball is a hybrid sport that mashes elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong together. It can be played indoors or outdoors using a whiffle ball and paddles about twice the size of ping-pong paddles. The court is smaller than a tennis court, and the net is about two inches shorter than the height of a tennis net.

Pickleball originated in the 1960s in Washington State, the brain child of Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend, Bill Bell. Legend has it, the men created the sport to as a way to entertain their bored families while on vacation. By the 1990s, people in all 50 states were playing pickleball, though it remained a novelty in the middle of the country.

“It’s truly a sport for all ages and skill levels,” Dr. Luerding said. “I see kids playing with their parents and friends, and I see seniors playing, too.”
He gives fair warning about the steep learning curve.

“At first, you feel clumsy and awkward, and the ball goes everywhere,” he said. “But, the more you play, the better you get. It’s surprising how rapidly you improve just by playing regularly. You don’t have to be athletic to get really good at pickleball.”

middle age man in t-shirt and short on a pickleball courtHealth Benefits

“Everybody needs some exercise, especially as they get older,” Dr. Luerding said. “Most people don’t make time for the exercise. With pickleball, you can get a good cardiovascular workout in one hour.”

Pickleball gets your heart rate up and improves your balance and agility skills so you’re less likely to fall. And, you control the pace, so you can make it as low impact or as high intensity as you want.

To reap all the health benefits of pickleball health benefits, Dr. Luerding recommends hitting the court about four times a week. “If you play doubles, you can split the cost. Four people playing for an hour is a good workout. Playing with just two people is more challenge, at least for me.”

Around Town

“Chicken ‘N Pickle is the deluxe cream of the crop,” Dr. Luerding said, but there are plenty of other places to play North of the River, including the Gladstone Community Center, and the North Kansas City and Riverside YMCAs. The only difference is picklers play on basketball courts taped off to the size of pickleball courts. If you’re traveling and want to play, check out Places 2 Play at USAPA Pickleball.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Luerding readily admits pickleball isn’t for everyone, but he encourages his patients to get some sort of regular physical activity. “The older you get, you just need to move,” he said.

“Whether it’s pickleball, walking, bicycling, swimming or something else, find an exercise you like and do it regularly. If you enjoy it, you’ll continue doing it. For me, it’s pickleball. I don’t like to sit on a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill. I like to do something that’s engaging and moving that uses muscles.”

Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. “People with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or people who smoke, have heart disease or diabetes especially should meet with their doctor first to make sure their heart can handle the extra exertion. It’s good to know you’re in good condition for any activity you want to take on.”

Dr. Luerding is quick to praise his friend, Dave, not only for bringing pickleball to the Northland, but also for his generosity in the community. “Every week, he partners with local organizations as a way to contribute to the community. He’s such a generous person.”

Dr. Luerding’s pickleball bottom line? “If you want to play, get out there and play. Take some lessons. It’s really fun.”