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Pickleball Empowers People With Parkinson’s

A pickleball match a day keeps the doctor away — or something to that effect.
For those living with Parkinson’s disease, exercise is a “vital component” to slowing the disease’s progression, particularly exercise centered on aerobics, strength training, balance, agility and flexibility, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. That’s where pickleball, a sport well aligned to healthy movements, comes into play.
Thus, on the tail end of Parkinson’s Awareness Month in April, Glendale’s Community Services & Parks Department hosted “Pickleball for Parkinson’s” in collaboration with the city’s pickleball community. The event, which took place on May 2 at the Pacific Community Center & Park, paired individuals with Parkinson’s with a partner for a friendly tournament across the community center’s three pickleball courts.
Desiree Zamorano, whose husband was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, said the first thing the doctor told her was that her husband needed to exercise six times a week. To keep up with this directive, her husband, Barry Rein, dedicates each day of the week to a different form of exercise, allocating one day to pickleball.
This event was Zamorano’s first time seeing Rein play and she was pleased to discover that it was not a “hypercompetitive” atmosphere, noting that the daily exercise regimen has been an adjustment for her husband.
“He’s not an athletically inclined person and so he would come home frustrated at first… but the sense of people here really keeps him going,” Zamorano said.
Aside from this event, the third of its kind at the community center, people with Parkinson’s or any disability are always welcome on the pickleball courts at Pacific Community Center, said many attendees of last week’s tournament.
When people with Parkinson’s play at the community courts, they are allowed certain leeway such as the “double bounce rule,” meaning they can allow the ball to bounce twice on their side before returning it back over the net. Other players have been accommodating to the adjustments to allow for an inclusive environment on the courts, organizers said.
Marshall Pura, a USA Pickleball Association ambassador, lobbied for pickleball courts in Glendale more than a decade ago and has seen firsthand the sport’s ability to generate community, calling the social aspect of the game “critical.”
“It keeps people interacting,” Pura said. “You listen to the buzz, and you hear the laughter. You see the goodwill, the good-natured bantering back and forth. You see the camaraderie and Glendale has been such a good community for it.”
Recalling one of the first times he saw someone with Parkinson’s play the sport, Pura said it was amazing to see the positive impact pickleball can have on a person with the disease.
“An elderly woman comes by with terrible tremors and she’s shaking, shaking, shaking,” Pura said in retelling this experience. “Then when I play with her, put a paddle in her hand, I see her hit the ball beautifully — no tremors, nothing.”
Additionally, Pura noted, he has observed people gain improved mobility, cognition and social activity, as the disease can be “isolating.”
Tracey McLaughlin, who has been living with Parkinson’s for about 10 years, echoed the bonding aspect of pickleball.
“It’s about more than pickleball — it’s community,” she said, adding that the group that plays at the Pacific Community Center is made up of “the nicest people.”
The Pickleball for Parkinson’s event also featured a raffle with prizes from Selkirk Sport, a leading Pickleball equipment brand. The funds generated from raffle ticket purchases were donated to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Another tournament participant, Norair Harutyunian, emphasized how important staying active is to his identity. While Harutyunian does not have Parkinson’s, he suffered a spinal cord injury resulting in his reliance on a wheelchair for mobility.
“This is a great opportunity for people in a wheelchair or with Parkinson’s to get involved in this game,” Harutyunian said, emphasizing the path to getting better and being healthy that pickleball helps create.

To raise money for the Parkinson’s Foundation, the event raffled off prizes from Selkirk Sport, a leading Pickleball equipment brand.

First published in the May 11 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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