Penny Eifrig, a devoted pickleball player out of Lemont, Pennsylvania, has recently returned from an eventful journey as a global pickleball ambassador in Europe.
Her travels took her to Germany and Croatia, where she worked hard to promote the sport, leaving a significant impression on pickleball enthusiasts of various ages and skill levels.
World Special Olympics Expo
The venture kicked off in June at the World Special Olympics Expo in Berlin, Germany.
In her role as a pickleball ambassador, Penny collaborated with a group from Butler University to instruct the game to a diverse range of participants, encompassing individuals of different ages, nationalities, sizes, and abilities.
This enriching experience underscored the sport’s growing popularity in Europe and the vital role that ambassadors from the USA, like Penny, play in advancing pickleball on the global platform.
A Sense Of Inclusivity
Following her contributions in Berlin, Penny turned her attention to Croatia, a nation on the cusp of embracing pickleball. In the coastal town of Makarska, she held a well-received clinic at a first-ever pickleball event in Croatia.
Approximately 25 Croatian and international players eagerly gathered to learn from Penny.
On June 25, Penny participated in the country’s inaugural pickleball tournament, which featured a unique format where players were paired with new partners for each game, ensuring a sense of inclusivity and success on the court.
Engaging Passers-By In Split
Accompanied by the Croatian-Canadian pickleball enthusiast Mirijana Juras, who served as her host during the trip, Penny’s journey continued to the captivating island of Brac on the Dalmatian coast.
Together, they engaged passers-by in the historic town of Split, introducing the game to curious onlookers who quickly became engrossed after picking up the paddles.
Just posted a photo https://t.co/43MmMvlD1u— Penny Eifrig (@EifrigPublish) May 30, 2023
Two newcomers were intrigued enough to take the ferry to the island the following day, joining Penny and Mirijana in making history as the first to play on the recently established permanent pickleball courts in Croatia, a testament to Mirijana’s tireless efforts to introduce pickleball to her home on Brac.
The Birthplace Of Nikola Tesla
From there, Penny and Mirijana’s pickleball journey proceeded to Smiljan, a village in rural Croatia and the birthplace of the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla.
Their pickleball demonstration at the historic site of his birth garnered significant interest from the staff, guests, and press, sparking conversations about incorporating pickleball as an additional attraction.
Enjoying a relaxing bday week of pickleball down in Virginia…came with a big bag of new Bread & Butter paddles and so far almost everyone who tried one bought one! #paddlesforthepeople https://t.co/SUX1jt2dCZ— Penny Eifrig (@EifrigPublish) April 23, 2023
The sport’s potential to serve as a cultural bridge was evident as individuals from diverse backgrounds connected while experimenting with the balls and paddles.
In Zagreb, Penny was warmly received by a dedicated group of approximately 20 local pickleball enthusiasts.
Over five days of training, Penny shared her knowledge and expertise, witnessing the continuous improvement of their skill levels.
The trip culminated in Pickleball Day, a remarkable event organized by Dr. Steven Pavletic, president of the Association of Croatian-American Professionals and a devoted pickleball player from the DC area.
The event attracted dignitaries, including the former Croatian president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who also serves on the Croatian Olympic Committee, plus current and former US ambassadors in the region.
Together, Penny and her newfound Croatian and American friends introduced the sport to over 100 new pickleball players, showcasing how the sport can generate almost immediate enthusiasm in players of all backgrounds upon trying out the game.
Penny Eifrig’s thrilling journey as an international pickleball ambassador has not only made a lasting impact on the European pickleball community but has also reaffirmed the unifying power of sports across borders.
She plans to return to the area to conduct a pickleball trip to Greece, followed by a return to the beautiful shores of the Adriatic to play and unwind in the island harbor town of Milna.
Her companions will have the opportunity to appreciate the local culture, while local players will benefit from the expertise of more advanced players from the States.
“I first discovered the Dalmatian coast in 1990, when I biked from Italy down the coast to the island of Brac.
“It was exciting to return to this incredible country, and I cannot wait to share their diverse culture and beautiful shores with other US pickleball players when we come and share our love of pickleball with the locals,” Penny stated.
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