After a year's respite to get over a recurring shoulder problem, I finally said, "Enough," and joined three friends for an indoor game. It felt great to play, and the time away hadn't eroded my skills as badly as I'd expected. I was glad when they asked me to join again two days later.
Only ten minutes into the game (which our side was winning, by the way), I moved left to return a ball. I didn't overreach. Instead, I did something not discussed in The Art of Pickleball: I tripped over my own shoes. Not much art in that!
Next thing I knew, I was sailing through the air in a full layout position. There was no opportunity to roll, and my hip took the full force of the fall. Friends called 9-1-1, and soon I was in a bed in the emergency room.
"How did you fall?"
"Oh, we see a lot of injuries from pickleball. That's a dangerous sport."
I heard that over and over, as I moved from paramedic to triage nurse to doctor to surgeon. I didn't enjoy the "bad rep" pickleball had among these medical professionals—it cut deeply into my love for what I think is a terrific sport. But it made me wonder if, in good conscience, I could continue to tell people, "You should try pickleball! It's a great sport," with the thought that, one day, they, too, might become a statistic in an emergency room.
Of course, this all came on the heels of a day, three months earlier, when I gave our new senior neighbors a lesson in pickleball. I stressed safety ("Don't run backward; don't overreach; you're not eighteen anymore," etc.) and they began to play. The husband had played other racquet sports, so he took to pickleball quickly. Somewhere during the second hour, he lunged for a shot beyond his reach. Although I knew he was going to fall, I didn't think it would be serious enough to fracture his shoulder and two ribs, but that's what happened.
I can recount other injuries. Another friend's first day on the court resulted in a face-plant that wasn't pretty and cost her weeks of pain. Another friend broke her arm. (The emergency room folks say that's the most common pickleball injury they see.) Of course, we all know there's a risk of injury to knees and elbows—witness the many compression wraps and braces seen on the courts.
But most people play pickleball for years and don't suffer major injuries. Most are coordinated enough to play without tripping over their own shoes, and most don't play so seriously that they put themselves at risk for an accident. When pressed, my straw poll of the ER folks revealed that the statistics for pickleball injuries are no worse than those from tennis or racquetball, yet these professionals continually call out pickleball as the worst culprit.
Perhaps it's just easy to poke at a sport that sounds like a condiment.
When word got out among the hospital personnel that I'd written a book on pickleball, their pokes turned into grins accompanied by comments like, "Guess you'll have to add a new chapter about hip replacements now, huh?"
Since then, people's next question is usually, "Are you going to play pickleball again?" Of course I will. I've had to take breaks from pickleball over the years due to an autoimmune disorder related to lupus. Because of that (and my klutziness), I was never in contention to become a great player, but I love the sport. I will continue on a when-I-can basis—assuming I'm able to find a pair of shoes that won't trip me up!
Meanwhile, I have lots of time to interview more great players, learn their strategies, tactics, and hints, and get those compiled into the always-in-process next edition of The Art of Pickleball.
This post is not meant to scare anyone away from one of the greatest sports ever. Rather, I hope you take away that accidents happen in any sport, and it's always wise to take precautions. Wear proper footwear—my personal caution would be to stay away from tennis shoes that flare out toward the sole. Warm up before you play. Make sure you are in good health. Don't take chances. If you're a klutz, be doubly careful. But get out and play. Pickleball is a great game.