Every Monday from 1 to 3 p.m., approximately 12 individuals gather at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center in Atlanta and play pickleball. Unbeknownst to those in the vicinity, each member of this incredible group lives with Parkinson’s disease.
Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease
Among these participants is Ellen Bookman, who not only plays pickleball but also enjoys boxing and competes as an equestrian. In 2018, at the age of 52, she received a diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s disease.
When outsiders discover that these players share the commonality of Parkinson’s, their initial reactions often involve expressions of sympathy or pity. However, Bookman and her fellow players are quick to dispel these preconceived ideas.
“Everyone is competitive,” she says, emphasizing that none of them make any effort to conceal their symptoms. “It’s just that you want to be looked at as people that can do anything despite a chronic illness like Parkinson’s, especially a muscle-movement disorder like Parkinson’s.”
Transforming Abilities And Camaraderie
Bookman also points out the noticeable transformation in the “Parkie Picklers'” abilities and camaraderie since they started playing together less than a year ago.
She says proudly, “I’ve improved so much, and I love watching the change. Working with these women I play with now, we all take lessons from the same guy. We take a lesson, and then we play.
“It’s just a really wonderful experience. At this point, I have watched so many people improve on the pickleball court. Many of the team play because they love the game – but they are just as competitive as anyone else on the courts.”
Bookman also mentions how regular physical activity is a crucial aspect of dealing effectively with Parkinson’s
“Whatever it is that people do, it’s for a little while that you forget about having Parkinson’s,” she said. “It affects our daily life. It’s a moment in time where I go, and I’m happy.”
Center For Movement Challenges
Bookman is among the 200-plus members affiliated with the Atlanta-based Center for Movement Challenges. This organization works mainly toward providing support to individuals grappling with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and veterans facing similar challenges.
“This non-profit changed my life as it is where I went after finally peeling myself off the couch following my diagnosis. The irony is that I am in the best shape of my life since starting to box in 2018.”
Pickleball now plays a significant role in Bookman’s exercise regimen, serving as a social sport that keeps her mentally engaged and is a major factor in assisting with her balance – an important aspect when managing Parkinson’s disease.
She says, “It’s like another building block to feeling the best that you can. It’s the socialization. It’s making new friends.” She adds that pickleball “is like a whole new world to many of us.”
According to Bookman, pickleball offers benefits not only in addressing the physical challenges posed by Parkinson’s but also in addressing the mental aspects of the condition: “One of the most important things is our mental wellness. The more stress we get, the more our symptoms come out. This is like the happy place.”
Having retired after dedicating 33 years to the field of public relations, Bookman now chronicles her journey with Parkinson’s through her blog.
“As an active member in the Parkinson’s community locally, nationally, and abroad,” she says. “I know the struggles people live each day with the disease.”
The NO LIMITS Pickleball Challenge
Furthermore, the Parkinson’s pickleball group has devised a plan to use the sport to raise awareness and funds for the Center for Movement Challenges. Bookman will be responsible for event coordination for the NO LIMITS Pickleball Challenge, taking place on September 9 at Sandy Springs.
“As the beneficiary of the fundraiser,” she says, “The Center for Movement Challenges’ mission is to enhance and potentially prolong the lives of those living with movement challenges, including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”
This Challenge will be an all-level, round-robin tournament, welcoming participants without requiring pre-formed partnerships. However, it’s important to note that available spots are limited, and the $50 entry fee is tax deductible.
Bookman says, “We started to plan the Pickleball Challenge, and that’s where we are right now.”
Many Bookman’s pickleball group members will participate in this aptly named Challenge: “We have no limits,” she says. “We can do anything.”
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