Hi everybody. I’m Andy Leighton and I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) 10 years ago. I play pickleball with my wife, Helen White. We compete nationally at the 4.0 65+ level. I’m actually 73 but play one age group lower because Helen is 66. That’s what I get for marrying a younger woman.
Anyway, Parkinson’s and pickleball present some stark contrasts. The biggest is the speed with which things happen. Pickleball, which looks a bit like tennis, is really more like giant ping pong, and that means most points end suddenly. As a tennis player, I had to get used to not only how fast the points end, but how quickly groups of points go by, one way or the other. So, from my view, pickleball is about speed, movement, reaction time, and tactics.
My PD is not at all compatible with pickleball, because it’s trying to slow me down physically and mentally. We all have a default speed with which we move and process things mentally. You don’t really think about your default speed until you get PD.
If you have PD and you just let your body and mind work at default speed – as you’ve always done – you will end up way behind the curve and disappointed with your performance because PD has slowed you down. If you bring focus to your activity, you can make things work for you. It just takes some effort.
I find myself totally relaxed playing pickleball, and my reaction time has actually improved. My tremor is reduced, I guess because I’m so wrapped up mentally and physically in the game. I tend to be quite analytical and tactical. I evaluate each shot in real time and communicate constantly with Helen or my men’s partner. So in this clash between pickleball and Parkinson’s, pickleball is winning so far, and I aim to keep it that way. Luckily, I have in my life what every PD patient needs: a group of supporters – in my case a nationwide group called Andy’s Army -- and a primary care-giver spouse who is the perfect combination of cheerleader and drill sergeant. I’m very fortunate and looking forward to the 2020 tournament season.
If you would like to follow Andy's journey, you can visit his website here.