Darla Christensen and her family went through a harrowing incident six years ago that left them emotionally scarred. However, she used pickleball as a beacon of hope to help her through her troubling experience.
A Tragic Event
Now, marking the anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting in Las Vegas, a tragic event that claimed numerous lives and left hundreds wounded, Christensen dedicates every day of the week to giving back through pickleball.
This transformative journey has encompassed global travels, pickleball outreach initiatives, and countless hours devoted to acts of charity, redemption, and joy. All of this comes in the wake of a senseless shooting that forever altered Christensen’s path.
A Hail Of Bullets
On October 1, 2017, Christensen, accompanied by her two sons, was working in a security detail for a music festival headlined by country star Jason Aldean.
From a hotel room 32 floors above the concert, a gunman unleashed a hail of bullets upon the unsuspecting crowd below at the Mandalay Bay Casino.
Christensen and her sons scrambled to assist and provide aid in the ensuing mayhem. Still, the ordeal left them grappling with emotional distress, PTSD, anxiety, and a reluctance to venture outdoors for several years.
“After two years, I was ready to begin venturing out, and then COVID hit,” Christensen recounted. “The entire city of Las Vegas was shut down for a year. I was in isolation for three years. Then I found pickleball.”
A Fundamental Transformation
Fast forward to 2023, where pickleball fundamentally transformed Christensen’s life. “I engage in pickleball outreach every week,” she affirmed.
“I offer complimentary lessons at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas every Saturday and organize events for children and families. I initiated a free Facebook group that disseminates information about courts, lessons, and events related to pickleball in the Las Vegas area.
“Our program hosts a charitable event each month, the latest being a tournament to raise breast cancer awareness in September, where we raised over $3,600.
“Every quarter, we sponsor a local Vegas school, raising funds to procure nets, balls, paddles, and instructional equipment, enabling the school to kickstart a pickleball program.”
And the story doesn’t end there. Months of diligent planning culminated in the opportunity to introduce pickleball to Bhutan. Alongside five other pickleball instructors, Christensen successfully raised over $45,000 to construct courts, as well as purchase shoes, socks, paddles, balls, nets, and various teaching equipment.
They met with Bhutan’s Olympic team, introducing them to the sport.
“We were granted permission to come to Bhutan because the governing body of Bhutan aims to bring joy and happiness to its people,” Christensen disclosed. “And pickleball undeniably delivers joy and happiness.”
In Bhutan, Christensen and her fellow instructors embarked on an extensive effort, passing on their pickleball skills at monasteries catering to abandoned and orphaned children. Here, they provided essentials to those with very little.
“It was life-changing for all of us instructors,” she reflected. “When we put paddles and balls in their hands, they had so much joy. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
“A Special Kind Of Chaos”
In addition to their work at the monasteries, Christensen and her colleagues instructed over 500 high school students and an additional 500 grade-school children.
“It was a special kind of chaos,” she admitted.
Following this, they visited the country’s most esteemed school, teaching another 200 children, and went on to instruct a professional soccer team.
“We worked very hard to not only show and explain the fundamentals but also to put a paddle in every child’s hand, if for only 15 minutes,” Christensen emphasized.
A Cheerleader In High School
This journey represents a remarkable evolution from the first time Christensen picked up a paddle in 2021.
“I was a cheerleader in high school,” she disclosed. “I had never played sports before. No tennis, ping pong, no team sports. I had never heard of pickleball before COVID hit. I became an instructor in October of 2021 and began creating opportunities for beginner players to join this amazing sport.”
“Pickleball Saved Me”
Pickleball has improved countless lives, and Christensen stands as a testament to this. It altered her life so dramatically that she was compelled to pay it forward.
Starting with playing, then teaching, and subsequently aiding others in doing the same, including founding the Pickleball New Dinkers of Las Vegas, which has swiftly grown to 6,000 members in just two years.
“Pickleball saved me,” she affirmed. “I was in a bad place, and it transformed my life. I was so alone. This is why I am passionate about bringing this amazing, healing, and social sport to others.”
“Because Pickleball saved me, I now work seven days a week to do charity work and provide service to others.”
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