The USA Pickleball National Championships is considered to be one of the most prestigious annual events for pickleball. This year, it is estimated that about 4,000 amateur and professional players will participate in the week-long event hosted at the Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas.
Players of a wide variety of skill levels and backgrounds will compete, which is part of what makes this such a special event. One such player is 79-year-old Larry Roberts, a retired attorney living in Lexington, Kentucky.
Roberts started playing pickleball about a year ago, and has been working with a pickleball coach named Danny Carollo to bring his game to the next level. In an interview with WKYT, Roberts claims he’s been hoping to get a chance to play in a national championship for a long time, and now that he’s found pickleball, he’ll be able to live out a lifelong dream.
“Well, I’ve been wanting to do it for 50 years. I’ve always wanted to play in the national tournament. And in tennis, I was never good enough to do it. It’s a big deal to me to be able to say you’re a national champion in anything. And I think I’ve got a chance.”
After undergoing four knee surgeries, Roberts decided it was time to put down the tennis racket and pick up a pickleball paddle. Despite being experienced with tennis, Roberts quickly realized that pickleball is a totally different ball game – literally!
“This game is a really good competitive game. So, Danny started working with me back in, I guess, October, I was coming off my last knee surgery replacement in July 2022. And I came out on the courts in October and said, would you work with me? And he said, sure, I’ll work with you. So, it was awful. I couldn’t hit the ball at first. The ball didn’t come to me like a tennis ball. But I looked like a fool.”
Through perseverance and many serious training sessions with Coach Carollo, Roberts has found his sea legs (I suppose you could call them pickle legs). Carollo has seen a total transformation in Roberts over the past year and is eager to see how he does at the National Championships.
“He’s in shape for his age, but he wasn’t in pickleball shape. Now that he’s working on all these drills, it’s light years because now his feet are under him good. He’s playing good pickleball. He’s making good decisions. And it’s just, it’s fun to watch.”
Carollo and Roberts play at the dozen pickleball courts in Kirklevington Park but note that they are often completely full. Because of pickleball’s growing popularity, last month, Lexington’s Parks and Recreation announced a $3 million project in 15 city parks to rebuild and restore tennis courts, as well as construct new, dedicated pickleball courts.
The new court spaces will allow players like Roberts more court time for recreational and competitive play. This should enable Roberts to up his already rigorous training routine.
Outside of his lessons with Carollo, Roberts also practices on his own at a local gym, using a pickleball machine to practice his returns. In addition to practicing, Roberts uses other wellness practices, like weekly massage therapy and stretching exercises, to stay in shape and ensure his body is ready for whatever a pickleball match might throw at him.
“I’m like a baby zebra out there. And if I don’t have good legs, I’m gonna get killed. I mean, really, it’s like that. And so, if you can’t run, you can’t possibly play singles. And I want to play singles.”
Through his hard work, Roberts was able to qualify for the USA Pickleball Nationals, where he’ll compete in the 80-years+ age category on November 6th. Besides being highly competitive, Roberts shares his love for pickleball by helping teach newcomers.
“I love teaching people how to play pickleball. One facet of people, when they get really good at pickleball, they don’t want to play with people who are beginners, it’s a waste of their time because they want to go out and play hard. And well, I like to, but I really like teaching people how to begin to play the game. And usually, it’s a recreational person who didn’t, he’s not trying to be, you know, an athlete, you know, he’s 65 years old, or he’s 30 years old, or he’s maybe in high school. And he’s never played before. So, if I can get them, I really like teaching them.”
We’ll be rooting for you, Larry! To learn more about the upcoming 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships, check out USAP’s website, where you’ll find registration and ticketing information.
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