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Pickleball for Parkinson’s: B.C. club hopes program can help provide exercise for life

Parksville players learning the game in bid to add life-extending activity to their regular routine
Duncan Watson learns the basics of pickleball provided by OPC Pickleball Club’s pilot program to help people with Parkinson’s disease. (Maire Watson photo)

A Vancouver Island Pickleball Club has started a pilot program that aims to help people with Parkinson’s disease.

A group of eight people with the neurodegenerative disease were first introduced to pickleball by the Parksville-based Oceanside Pickleball Club instructors Ernie Pallot and Sharon Fox on July 25.

Despite having to play when the heat was a bit intense at noon, participants savoured the experience and left feeling good and extremely appreciative of the opportunity. One of them was Duncan Watson, who was diagnosed with the disease 10 years ago.

“It was great to be out there,” said Watson, who also attends the Rock Steady boxing program at the Fluid Fitness Studio that is geared towards helping people combat Parkinson’s. “It was a hot day. I was a bit wilted in the end but there are no ill effects the next day. So I am looking forward to our next sojourn with Ernie.”

Watson’s wife, Maire, was impressed with the program.

“My heart is full on what they’re doing,” said Maire. “They’re doing this on a volunteer basis. It’s fantastic. People are not aware of this being given out to the community.”

Pallot and Fox held basic lessons that included tossing the ball around, hand-throwing the ball and hitting the ball with each other simply to give them a good feel for the game.

During the course of the lessons, Pallot indicated they will keep a record of everything they’re doing and also hand out self-assessment forms for participants to fill out and bring back for the next session.

“The reason why I want to do this as a pilot program is to have the information available so that we can make it known to the various associations and clubs across Canada, if it’s successful, that they can introduce it themselves,” said Pallot, who added that Pickleball BC and Pickleball Canada are quite keen to learn more from the program.

READ MORE: VIDEO: 79-year-old B.C. man fights Parkinson’s with boxing

Pallot started the program in the spring. He was inspired by friend who was diagnosed with the disease and had to give up tennis but switched to pickleball.

“He was able to play pickleball for an additional 10 years,” said Pallot. “The only reason he gave it up was his wife started asking him where he is getting the bruises from. He had to admit he was tripping and falling. So she made him give it up.”

Pallot, also a pickleball instructor for the Regional District of Nanaimo, was also made aware some of the students that registered had Parkinson’s. He also learned that they attend the Rock Steady boxing program run by Doug Pickard, a strong supporter of Parkinson’s disease research and volunteer facilitator of the Oceanside Parkinson’s Disease Support Group.

“It’s all about exercise and how important it is to people with Parkinson’s, diabetes or various ailments,” said Pallot. “Exercise is life extending. And that to me, means a lot especially if you’ve got Parkinson’s or a debilitating disease. That’s why I thought this is very worthwhile.”

Pallot said they made sure the club covered all the grounds before starting the program. It includes having liability insurance and also making it a prerequisite for participants to get clearance from their doctors to participate.

“Our club has retired doctors who has helped us with the program as well as retired nurses,” said Pallot. “They were present during the initial lessons to observe and make sure we’re not working them hard, which we certainly didn’t. They also made sure we gave them ample rest breaks.”

Pallot said one of his objectives is to help the participants reach a level where they can join OPC Pickleball Club or any other club and be able to play as a novice player.

Maire said she is truly grateful for the community initiatives that helps people like her husband Duncan fight Parkinson’s.

“It’s just amazing what they do and how they’re impacting the lives of people with Parkinson’s,” said Maire. “The social engagement. They talk about the various symptoms they’e experiencing everyday. They watch each other, care for one another and encourage each other. They know, that they’ve got to push hard to try and stay mobile.”

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Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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