Many Yukoners would probably be surprised to learn there’s a sport called pickleball. Many would also be surprised to hear there’s a pickleball team set to represent Yukon at the 2016 Canada 55+ Games.
“I’m so excited about going because we know nothing about how everyone else plays,” said Whitehorse’s Linda Profeit. “We don’t have a clue if we’re anywhere near getting a medal. We’re going to have fun; if I don’t come back with a medal, I’m fine with that.”
Profeit, along with pickleball teammates Bev Buckway and Larry Iampen, will compete for Yukon at the biennial Games this August in Brampton, Ont.
They make up Yukon’s first-ever team to compete in pickleball, which is included in the Games for the first time this year.
So what is pickleball? Well, it has nothing to do with pickles.
It’s sort of where tennis and table tennis meet; a smaller version of tennis played with wooden paddles and a wiffle ball. It uses a court smaller than tennis – the same size as a badminton court – with a low net.
It’s similar to paddle tennis, which is played with a rubber ball and allows overhead serving. (There’s also platform tennis, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.)
“It’s designed as a game that a grandfather could play with his grandson equally well,” said Buckway. “It’s not a game of brute strength, it’s more a game of ball placement. And it’s really great for the senior crowd because it’s not as stressful on the joints. It’s kind of easy to play and is a good social sport as well.”
Pickleball was first played in 1965 in Washington State. Contrary to the common belief the sport’s name comes from one of the founder’s dog named Pickles, according to the wife of one of the founders the name was inspired by the term “pickle boat,” which refers to last finishing boat to return to port. Pickles the dog came two years after the invention of the sport, she said in an interview quoted on the World Pickleball Federation’s website.
All three Yukoners are new to the sport, having taken it up earlier this year.
“I heard about pickleball at a committee meeting and one of the gentlemen, Dave Brekke, was looking for a partner,” said Profeit. “I didn’t know anything about it, but I said, ‘I’d love to go to the Games and I’ll play pickleball.’ So that’s how it all started.
“(Brekke) had to bow out because of back issues, which is so unfortunate because he’s the guy who started it.”
“A friend of mine was telling me she’s going to the 55+ Games for pickleball and she needed someone to play against. And I said, ‘Linda, I’ve never played pickleball, but you tell me when and where and I’ll come,’” said Buckway, who within days of first playing signed up for the team just before the deadline. “You can blame her for getting me into this.”
The Yukon pickleballers are doing their best to overcome a rather large obstacle: a lack of facility in Whitehorse.
They regularly attend drop-in sessions offered by ElderActive Recreation Association (ERA) at the Canada Games Centre on the less-than-ideal hardwood of the flexihall. They have also purchased their own net and play using lines put down with chalk at a skating rink in Granger.
Iampen played softball at a previous 55+ Games and Profeit ran the five-kilometre at the last Games in 2014.
Buckway, who was mayor of Whitehorse from 2006 to 2012, has seen 55+ teams off in the past. Now she is a member of one.
“I’ve wished everybody off at the pep rally and wished them luck, but I’ve never gone before,” said Buckway. “It’s great. There’s nothing like getting a group of Yukon people together and send them off as a group somewhere. You know we’re wonderful ambassadors when we go and it’s a great way to have a lot of fun.”
Team Yukon will consist of a total of 102 participants (and 12 cheerleaders) and will compete in 18 sports and activities at the Games Aug. 16-19.
The three pickleballers will continue to practice at the rink in Granger and Mondays 6-8 p.m. at the Canada Games Centre through the month of July.
“We’re definitely looking for more people who want to play,” said Buckway.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org