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Powell River seniors experience pickleball

Sport increasing in global popularity
GHERKINITOS ASSEMBLE: Members of the two VIU ElderCollege introduction to pickleball courses met on Friday, March 6 for friendly matches to practice the skills they learned earlier in the week. The inaugural eight-week session taught by the Gherkins [front row far left, third from left, and far right in black shirts: Arlene, Rosalie and Barb] will wrap up on March 20, with another session planned for fall 2020. Vanessa Bjerreskov photo

For the last several weeks, Vancouver Island University (VIU) has echoed with the sounds of laughter, encouragement, and paddles hitting whiffle balls as participants in the inaugural ElderCollege introduction to pickleball classes learn to play one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

“This is one of the first training sessions of this kind in Powell River,” said Gherkin Barb, one of the four Gherkins who instruct the classes. “We wanted to run this course through ElderCollege to encourage seniors to learn the sport, get moving, and expand their community at an affordable cost.”

Pickleball was invented in 1965, and is a paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis in play. The sport is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels.

“I have had two hip replacements and I broke my left wrist a year ago, so I approached the class with quite a bit of trepidation,” said student Heather Stephen. “But pickleball, especially the way the Gherkins teach it, is so gentle that at no time have I felt that I was holding people up or that anyone was way better than me. I don’t look like this old decrepit thing on the court,” she added with a laugh.

While pickleball can be fast-moving, the Gherkins – Barb, Rosalie, and Arlene, as well as pop-in Gherkin Ryan – wanted to approach teaching at ElderCollege differently. “While you can just smash the ball, pickleball is so much more fun when you practice strategy,” said Gherkin Barb. “If you are good with your placement and can move your opponents around the court to set up that perfect drive down the middle, it feels great. That’s why we focus on skill development; our motto is ‘Placement over Power.’”

The Gherkins provide all the equipment for the VIU course, which includes one training session per week on either Tuesdays or Thursdays, as well as drop-in game play on Fridays. The eight-week session will wrap up on March 20, and another course is planned for the fall. Those eligible for ElderCollege classes are encouraged to contact VIU as soon as possible to add their name to a waiting list, as interest in the course has been high, according to Gherkin Barb.

“Pickleball will appeal to people who like an intellectual challenge and who want to move,” she said. “Our students have picked things up very quickly. For example, this week our lesson was on court awareness and partner communication, and today in the games, they’re talking to each other and helping each other more. It’s rewarding to see.”

The Gherkinitos, as the students have taken to calling themselves, have gained more than just a sport they enjoy from the classes. “This has been a great way to meet new people,” said Stephen. “We laugh a lot, we get along, it’s non-threatening, and that comes back to the Gherkins. I can’t say enough about how great the instructors are.”

For more information about the fall ElderCollege pickleball course, contact VIU program assistant Xochitl Hernandez at 604.485.8053 or

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