WESTCHASE – This time last year, Mike Manser was not a happy man.
He was suffering from depression over the recent death of his son, he had issues with his heart, diabetes, bad knees, and was, simply, unhappy.
Then came pickleball.
It might be too much to say it changed his life, but the increase in activity has not only improved his health, but his outlook on life, too.
And while pickleball isn't about to overtake the NFL as the biggest sport in the nation, its popularity is growing. At the Westchase Recreation Center, the game is growing quickly, especially among seniors, and Manser runs the show.
“I was so sick until I discovered this game,” Manser said while officiating a large group of Monday rec center players. “I was just told about it and knew I needed something. Pretty soon I lost 30 pounds and was hooked.”
So what is pickleball? Let's start with the origins of the unusual name. The person who created the game had a dog named Pickles. It grew from there. The game is played indoors, inside the Westchase Rec gymnasium where there are four lined courts that run side to side. It can be played as doubles or singles and there is a net, about waist high, in the center. Players use paddles that are a little larger than ping-pong paddles, and play with a wiffle ball. Strength doesn't really factor into play since the ball simply doesn't go too fast.
The game is great exercise, especially for the seniors who flock to the center for the friendly competition.
“I became addicted to this game immediately,” Manser said. “I did everything I could to learn everything I could. I learned the rules and couldn't stop.”
Manser walks around monitoring games and offering advice. He runs the Friday 10 a.m. league, and the Monday and Wednesday “boot camps.” After the boot camps, the courts remain open until 1 p.m.
Manser's goal is to get some rivalries going with some other local rec centers, especially in Northdale. The game might be a lot like mini-tennis, but without the tempers.
“Nobody cares if they win,” Manser said. “We want to start competing on a friendly basis with other communities. This game has saved me from a lot and it's addictive.''