ARLINGTON, Va. – If spotted on a tennis court, Soldiers in the Army Recovery Care Program may not be playing tennis; they could be playing pickleball. Two Soldier Recovery Units offer pickleball as part of their adapting reconditioning programs for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers — and participants said that the sport is not only fun to play, but also has other benefits.
Pickleball has been around for decades, but appears to be gaining popularity. According to the USA Pickleball Association, it's one of the fastest growing sports in America.
Marc Cattapan, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Carson SRU, Colorado, described pickleball as a cross between tennis and table tennis that is played with a ball that is similar to a whiffle ball. Players use paddles to compete in doubles or singles matches on courts that are smaller than tennis courts.
“Even though the court is smaller, you still get a good workout in,” Cattapan said.
Ashley Riddick, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Campbell SRU, Kentucky, first heard about how popular pickleball was when she arrived at the SRU. Participation in the program increased slowly through word of mouth, she said. Last fall, the SRU held a pickleball tournament.
“We had a good turnout for that and it was fun,” Riddick said.
Presently, Soldiers are playing outside twice a week and using sanitization wipes, gloves and social distancing to adhere to Army COVID-19 guidelines. They are slated to return to their peak level of three games per week in November.
Staff Sgt. William Carroll hadn’t heard of pickleball before arriving at the Fort Campbell SRU either. The sport allows him to be competitive and physically active while also enjoying camaraderie with friends.
At first, Carroll was surprised by how difficult it was to keep the ball within bounds when he hit it with the paddle.
“It is definitely a finesse type of sport,” he said.
Carroll has noticed that more places have pickleball, which means it will be easy for him to continue playing after he transitions from the SRU.
According to Cattapan, the program at Fort Carson took shape after they learned about the one at Fort Campbell. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it was easy to transition pickleball to the tennis courts outside and play socially distanced games, he said. They sanitize the balls and paddles after they play.
Soldiers are introduced to the game with exercises that include dribbling the ball on a paddle, footwork and hitting the ball over the net. After that, they play their first pickleball game.
“If you have played table tennis, you can play pickleball,” Cattapan said.
Pfc. Glen Gifford, a Soldier stationed at the Fort Carson SRU, likes pickleball because it helps him to lose weight, get out of his comfort zone, interact with others, and feel relaxed and energetic throughout the day.
“It also helps me with my anxiety and depression,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.