One of the greatest assets of pickleball aside from the physical and emotional benefits is its accessibility to virtually anyone, including people with disabilities.
Sandy Halkett discovered this when she took up the sport in 2018. Halkett, an LPGA Certified Class A golf pro for over 25 years, was first introduced to pickleball in 2016. Born in Florida and now residing in South Carolina, she played a number of sports growing up.
Halkett didn’t take up golf until college, but took to it quickly. She loved playing, but wanted something resembling soccer or basketball, sports that were more active.
“Golf never gave me the cardio my body was longing for, honestly. Golf is such a mental (sport). Everything’s got to be precise.”Sandy Halkett
One day, Halkett ran into a friend who was drenched in sweat.
“Dude, have you been jogging?” Halkett asked.
“No, I’ve been playing pickleball,” he replied.
At first, Halkett didn’t believe him. But he convinced her to go to a gym and try it out. When Halkett arrived, she paired up against an older couple who consistently beat her.
“They just kept waxing me,” Halkett recalled. “I’m more fit, I’m fast, athletic. They’re barely breaking a sweat and they’re beating me.”
But Halkett quickly became fascinated by the sport’s strategy and placement, and she learned to play smarter instead of harder. After spending most of the day teaching golf, she would go to a nearby gym in the evenings and play pickleball.
Since 2000, Halkett has coached a Special Olympics golf team in the Greenville area. She has also worked with a local hospital for people with disabilities. A friend suggested she form a pickleball team for people with cognitive, physical, and mental disabilities.
Halkett warmed to the idea, and Adaptive Pickleball (APB) was formed in 2020. Serving the greater upstate South Carolina area, it allows people of all ages and challenges to experience the thrill of pickleball, improve physical fitness and socialize.
Over the past three years, APB has grown to average anywhere from 15 to 20 participants per event. It holds Pickleball Play Days with courts divided up according to skill level. One is for beginners, another helps players work on game skills, and a third is for competitive play.
In order to accommodate all players, modifications are made when necessary. For visually impaired players, Halkett hooks a piece of string to a pickleball and connects it to the end of a golf ball retriever. From a safe distance, she uses the retriever to bring the ball to a player’s paddle where they can feel it and hit. The technique is similar to that of tetherball.
Balls, paddles, and nets are mainly purchased through grants or individual financial donations. All events are free to participants. Active or retired military veterans are also welcome to join, whether they have a disability or not.
While there is no official certification, coaches and volunteers undergo a training workshop to learn how to work with people with various disabilities.
“That looks good for when we do insurance,” Halkett explained. “But we also did it (because) we wanted our coaches to be confident, to be aware of disabilities, how to handle different situations that come up.”
APB prefers to use the term diverseability rather than disability to describe its participants. The same friend who persuaded Halkett to form the organization came up with the word and ran it by the board of directors as well as people with disabilities. Everyone loved the idea, and the word stuck.
“It felt like we were putting the spotlight on the word disability,” Halkett said. “We chewed on it for a while, we came back the next board meeting, and we liked it. It just seemed to have a better feel to it because their abilities are diverse.”
The therapeutic benefits of APB’s participants are life-changing. Halkett cites an example of one amputee who remarked, ‘you make me feel like an athlete again’. One mother, describing her 21-year-old son who was extremely depressed after suffering a stroke, told Halkett, ‘you all have saved his life’.
Our next outdoor Adaptive Pickleball open play is next week- 7/10, 6pm at Tryon Park, RSVP so we know to expect you. pic.twitter.com/1hEzaKiU7Y— Greer Recreation (@GreerRecreation) July 5, 2023
For Halkett, there is no greater feeling than seeing smiles on the faces of participants who realize they can play pickleball just as their able-bodied peers can.
“It’s therapy for me, my coaches, across the board,” Halkett said. “We’re all out there getting a little something from it.”
To find out how you can become involved with Adaptive Pickleball as a player, coach or volunteer, visit the contact page on their website.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?