There is a fire burning in this place, but no flickering flames are visible to the naked eye. Still, no one at Crabtree Memorial Gymnasium can deny the passion for pickleball ablaze in Rena Grant. They feel the heat on and off the court.
Grant is a 91-year-old great-grandmother who can battle the best and win. She has pickleball power. Just check out her forehand and backhand. Yep, she’s bad.
It is the fastest growing game on the planet.
Rena Grant, 91-year-old Pickleball Ambassador
“What an inspiration she is for all of us,” said Darlene Hanfmann, 65, as she watched Grant in action. “I pray to play as long as she has and as good as she does.”
Back in 2007, Grant spearheaded a personal campaign to bring a sweet game with a sour name to hundreds on the Grand Strand. That was when she went to numerous schools and various recreation centers to tout the sport she fell in love with one fateful day 20 years ago. She was in The Villages, Fla., and her plan was to play tennis, but she happened upon a gentleman playing pickleball. He taught her in one day, and Grant has been hooked ever since.
“If you ever played tennis, you would make a good pickleball player,” said Grant, a former gym teacher at St. David Roman Catholic Church in Willow Grove, Pa. “It requires good balance, good eye and hand movement, and being quick on your feet. The main thing is that you have to keep your eyes on the ball at all times. Never take your eyes off the ball.”
What an inspiration she is for all of us. I pray to play as long as she has and as good as she does.
Darlene Hanfmann, 65
Grant preaches pickleball like Apple advertises its newest iPhone – you will be sold and buy what she’s selling, or at the very least you’ll be impressed by her presentation.
“Pickleball is fun, and it’s good exercise,” said Grant, who lives in Carolina Forest with her 42-year-old granddaughter, Kelly Morgan, who is married with 11-year-old twins who also enjoy the game. “It’s easier to learn than tennis, and the court is smaller than that of a tennis court. There’s also a lot of togetherness and friendship. It is the fastest growing game on the planet.”
The USA Pickleball Association, also known as USAPA, estimates there are more than 400,000 active pickleball players nationwide, with pickleball facilities in all 50 states. Invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash., pickleball is played on a court measuring 20x44 feet, with a net height of 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped comparably to a tennis court. Players usually use a white or yellow ball that is similar to a wiffle ball.
“She’s the one who really got pickleball going in this town,’’ said George Moustakis, 80, who recently played pickleball with Grant and about 50 others at the gymnasium. “She plays a great game for her age. Just look at her.”
If you do, you will see Grant, while wearing Clorox-white socks and snazzy Skechers, smashing the ball, slicing it, and making competitors young enough to be her grandchildren, upon missing her returns, release grunts loud enough to impress Serena Williams.
“She is pickleball,” said Rob Cardella, 47, the center supervisor at Crabtree, who has known Grant for about 16 years. “I mean how else would you describe a person who is always wanting to teach anybody who wants to learn? She will teach anybody anything.”
He remembers her pitching pickleball to him, back when the sport was unknown to him.
“She kept coming at me,” Cardella said. “She wanted pickleball here. She was, let’s say, persistent.”
Her refusal to be refused comes across like honey, not vinegar. She is a kind lady who has a sweet tooth for physical pursuits that hone the body, mind, and spirit. Without hesitation, she will tell you it is God she thanks daily for keeping her as fit and fabulous as she is.
Her goal in life is to keep seniors off the couch and get people to eat good things
Linda Hopkinson, Grant’s 64-year-old daughter
“God has given me the strength to play, and that is the main thing. Plus, I have always great love in my family that has lasted down the line” said Grant, a Tabor City, N.C. native who grew up and worked on a 60-acre farm. She and her six sisters milked cows, picked tobacco and strawberries, fed hogs, and played basketball. Their parents never missed a game.
Through the years, Grant has added volleyball, badminton, track, racquetball, tennis, race walking and about eight other sports to her resume, although her mainstay is the one also known to be kosher and dill.
“Her goal in life is to keep seniors off the couch and get people to eat good things,” said her 64-year-old daughter, Linda Hopkinson, a recreation leader at Pepper Geddings Recreation Center. “She wants everybody active.”
Of course, Grant would prefer if you put pickleball on your exercise plate. She promises you’ll have a good time learning the game and an even better time playing it.
“If you can hit good shots and receive a lot of good shots, you are going to win,” she said. “You have to keep your heels off the floor so you can move better. A lot of people get sweaty after one game, but I am not a sweater anyway.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.
Want to play?
What: 3rd annual Myrtle Beach Seaside Classic Pickleball Tournament
When: Oct. 2 and Oct. 3
Where: Myrtle Beach Sports Center
Deadline to enter: Sept. 19.
Information/registration: 843-796-0124 or www.usapa.org/events/