Pickleball might be the fastest-growing sport that most people have never heard of.
In two years, one man has helped the sport go from being almost a secret in the Arvada area to one with 500 players.
Ken Marquardt, 72, started playing pickleball just two years ago. He said he got hooked after picking up a paddle for the first time. Two months later, he took on the role of ambassador with the USA Pickleball Association, bringing the sport to the Apex Center.
“Like everybody else, I had never heard of it,” Marquardt said.
A friend introduced him to it and he tried it out for himself at a center in Lakewood. Now Marquardt is known as “Pickleball Ken” around the Apex Center.
“I used to play tennis and racquetball in high school and college, but I had two total shoulder replacements,” Marquardt said. “It was right up my alley.”
Pickleball is played with paddles and a whiffle ball on a badminton court, with a net that is 34 inches from the floor at the center.
The game was created in 1965 by a Washington state congressman who improvised with a friend when they wanted to play badminton but couldn’t find a full set of equipment. They established the rules, and named the game after the congressman’s dog, Pickles, who take the ball during a game and run off with it.
When Marquardt started playing in 2010, he gathered a group of about eight people to play on two courts. Now, 500 people play at seven different centers in the Arvada-Westminster area on a weekly basis.
“What I like about pickleball is that so many people don’t want to exercise, but this is so much fun,” he said. “It helps so many people.”
Marquardt said he has met people who have Parkinson’s that have been able to better manage their symptoms because of pickleball. He said he knows a man who has had pancreatic cancer for eight years, and has seen major life improvements since he started playing.
“It’s good socially, it’s good mentally and it’s good physically,” Marquardt said. “It’s so fun and good for (everyone); you can play recreational for funsies or you can be very, very competitive as well.”
Tom Carney, a competitive pickleball player since 2011, found out about the sport through the Apex Center’s Silver Sneakers program for seniors. He said he hated every moment of traditional exercise, but then he met Marquardt.
“It’s absolutely the most fun thing I’ve ever done,” Carney said. “I’ve met more people here than I have in 40 years in Arvada outside work. I’m in better shape. It’s good mentally too; it makes you think because there are so many ways you can hit the ball.”
Maryanne Keefe also met Ken through Silver Sneakers, and he introduced both her and her husband to the sport.
“He introduced us to the idea of pickleball, and we came out to play a couple days later. We haven’t missed a day since,” she said. “It’s addictive. (People) have to come and see; as soon as they try it, they will be hooked forever.”
Pickleball is hosted at the Apex Center 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays.
For more information about pickleball in the Arvada area, contact Pickleball Ken at 303-422-1255 or 303-929-3878.