About 10 years ago, a friend of Larry Lam asked him for a ride to a pickleball tournament in Surprise, Arizona. Lam was completely clueless about the game, but as soon as he heard that distinctive sound of paddle on ball and saw how everyone was enjoying themselves on and off the court, he couldn’t help but get swept up in the whole thing.
“Sounded Very Attractive”
“I wanted to see what they were doing because everybody looked so happy,” Lam recalled while talking to Joanne C. Gerstner of Red Line Editorial. “Then I heard that new sound; the ball being hit sounded very attractive, so I decided I would come back to see more.”
Fascinated, Lam revisited the tournament and decided to give the game a go himself. He bought his own paddle the following week and signed up for some lessons. Larry is now a pretty handy player and has achieved an impressive 5.0 rating.
The game has become a family affair for the Lams, with his wife, Mikki Lieu, and their three kids permanent residents on the courts, often playing together up to 6 times a week and using pickleball as the wonderful bonding experience it is.
The Lam trio — Jaden, 15, Kody, 13, and Karina, 10 — have also emerged as formidable players, clinching titles at national tournaments. Jaden’s triumphant performances at the 2023 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships, along with Karina’s multiple wins, are just the latest examples of their success.
Jaden swept the Junior Boys Singles (ages 15-16), Junior Boys Doubles (15-18) with Kody, and Junior Mixed (15-18) with Karina. Karina triumphed in the Junior Girls Singles (8-12) and took bronze in the Junior Girls Doubles (8-14 and 15-18).
Education First, Pickleball Second!
The vast collection of medals and scholarships adorning their bedrooms stands as a testament to their talent and dedication. However, despite all the accolades, Larry emphasizes it’s strictly education first and pickleball second:
“We play 5-6 nights per week, and the whole family plays. We all like it because we are together. There are not a lot of sports where parents and kids can play together.
“Now, our lives revolve around pickleball, and we’re on the road a lot for tournaments. But, in our family, education comes first. Whatever the kids want for their future, we tell all three kids that it is an education first, and after that, pickleball. They know what we expect of them.”
“I Just Love Playing Pickleball”
High-school sophomore Jaden aims for higher-level tournaments and dreams of a professional career while pursuing college: “I just love playing pickleball. I feel really happy even when I am stressed or nervous before a match. It’s fun to play with my brother and sister because we all make each other better.
“My sister is the best partner because she is not scared. She can get everything back, even when she is being smashed at. And Kody is so fast; he can do the most amazing shots. He is phenomenal and so talented.
“I mean, my dad is really good, too. He has a lot of wisdom and knows what to do. So we all teach each other.”
The Social Aspect
Kody relishes the social aspect and focuses on honing his skills.
“I’m playing for fun. I like being with my friends and my family,” he says. “I think I am pretty good, but I still have a lot of places to improve on.
“ I know I can beat most people my age right now, but sometimes playing tournaments is not as much fun for me because I get stressed out. But I think I am learning how to be better with that as I do more tournaments.”
The youngest, Karina, maybe the one destined to go the furthest in the sport, is undaunted by larger or older opponents and revels in the thrill of defeating them.
Larry said watching her play against older and stronger opponents, especially boys who can have 5-7 years on her in mixed events, can be nerve-wracking but also eye-opening. Mikki doesn’t tend to watch her kids play, as she finds the experience too nail-biting.
Karina understands their emotions, as she feels them, too. However, her will to win is greater than the butterflies.
“Sometimes they are so much bigger than me, but I try not to think about it,” said fifth-grader Karina. “I think it helps that I am playing with my brother. He helps me get calmer and not worry about what is going to happen. I like it when I beat people bigger than me; it makes me feel really good!”
Pragmatic Outlook On Life
Larry’s life in Vietnam before he arrived in the U.S. was a hard one, and he also struggled with red tape before moving here, having to spend a year in a crowded refugee camp in Thailand.
All this has given him a suitably pragmatic outlook on life and made him thankful for all he has:
“I appreciate everything I have, and I want to be happy in my life. I want the same for my wife and children, too,” he says. “I want us to be together, enjoying our life, and we have gotten so much of that from pickleball.
I would be happy with whatever my children did in pickleball, as it is not all about winning. It is about trying your best and being with others. I am glad we have pickleball for all of those reasons.”
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