By Julie Worthington
What an experience!
Coincidentally, our family road trip to Oxnard, CA coincided with the National Pickleball Championships at Indian Wells, CA — right on our route! What a thrill … and what an experience to witness the best pickleball players in the world!
Upon arrival at the beautiful Indian Wells venue, Bob and I were greeted by SCPA president Lori Miller, Summit County’s best. Lori was like a kid at Christmas — grinning from ear to ear, hardly believing she was really at Nationals, and introducing us to people right and left. A true Ambassador of the sport, this lady loves pickleball more than anyone I know. She kept pointing out pros, giving us the inside scoop on their strengths and weaknesses. She also assured me that looks aren’t everything in pickleball. Indeed, some of the top ladies looked as if their strengths would more surely lie in their own kitchens at home!
After a long first day of watching the very best, we took center-court seats on day 2 as Lori’s #1 supporters! The temperature soared close to 90 degrees. Lori and her partner, Patti Gallegos of Denver, tackled their first match in the 4.5 bracket like true champs. They were a strong, dominating, true team working together with a mission in mind, and allowing Bob and I to breathe a bit easier for our Colorado gals.
As Lori continued through a full five matches in the double-elimination tournament, she struggled more and more with what we thought was a leg injury. We found out later — with a trip to the emergency room! — that it was severe dehydration in the blazing heat and sun. I’ve never seen a tougher, more determined athlete in my life. Lori would not quit, even though cramping/dehydration eventually won out.
We spent one more full day watching the amazing pros — Scott Moore, his sons Jon and Daniel, Tyson McGuffin, Ben Johns, Lucy Kovalova, Sarah Ansboury, Simone Jardim, just to name a few. A huge highlight of the day was stumbling upon the age 75+ 5.0 woman. Wow! No words for their amazing skill and talent. Truly an inspiration!
The Indian Wells venue was filled with pickleball mania! Booths from every pickleball manufacturer around. Free demos of the latest, greatest paddles, shoes, and gear. Live music, great food, an opportunity to hang out with the world’s largest “Pickles” dog…only to find out that IS how “Pickleball” actually got its name. And 45 pickleball courts in action from 8am to 8pm. For a moment or two, Bob and I actually felt like pickleball pros ourselves!!
After a few days in Oxnard, we could not wait to get back to Nationals to cheer on our home town boy, Junior Serenel, in his Nationals debut. He played in the junior singles and we could not have been prouder. With less than a year of pickleball under his belt, Junior is on the road to being one of the best players in the nation. Although he did not medal this year, I know this experience has made him just that much tougher and more confident.
Nationals will be an annual road trip for us. We had an absolute blast! And supporting our hometown favorites was such an added bonus. We will be there next year, center court, cheering you on again, Lori and Junior!