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San Clemente Journal

Silver Paddles - Fun, Fitness & Friends

Sep 03, 2019 10:28AM ● By Nina Welch

Raudel Barba, Susan Brady-Henry and Vern West enjoying the game.

by Nina Welch

“Pickleball has changed my life,” says Vern West, age 81. “I’ve met a lot of nice people, I’ve lost 25 pounds, my blood pressure has dropped, and the pain in my back and knee is gone since I started playing.” 

Vern - who had played tennis for over 30 years and had to give it up due to back, shoulder, and knee surgery - has become obsessive about pickleball because of the great health benefits from playing the game for just a year and a half. Now he wants to give back by organizing a pickleball club, along with instructor Raudel Barba, United States Professional Pickleball Association professional, who came up with the name, Silver Paddles, for 65 and older participants who want to enjoy a social environment and fun exercise. He likes to refer to pickleball as fun, fitness, and friends old and new.

Vern’s main purpose in starting Silver Paddles is to get seniors off the couch for a low-cost exercise activity and a way to meet people.  The game is so much fun that one doesn’t realize health and fitness just happened. 

Not only does one get to leave the couch to play pickleball, but staying out of the kitchen is a must. The kitchen is slang for the non-volley zone in the court area within seven feet on both sides of the net. One can only step in the kitchen if the ball bounces there. 

Instructions by Raudel will include holding the paddle like a baby bird and serving underhand at belly-button level similar to bowling. He started teaching pickleball three-years-ago. His early memories involve him on his hands and knees chalking the courts. “When it rained, I cried,” says Raudel. 

Baby boomers are catching on to the game and the courts are filling up, so there is a need for designated pickleball courts in San Clemente. The tennis courts are striped over to create four courts per one tennis court. Most games are played as doubles, which means 16 pickleball players per court vs. four tennis players per court. The court also has a slightly modified tennis net. 
One can join Silver Paddles and be a part of the pickleball family for seniors. A lot of former tennis players currently play the game, and Coach Raudel predicts it will be an Olympic sport within ten years. Even with a smaller court, the game offers a cardio workout and good mental well-being. The twisting, turning, squatting, bending action when playing creates core and muscle development, flexibility, and improvement of quick-twitch muscle reaction. One might be surprised at the exercise results because of the desire to play more. In other words, the game can be addictive.

No one could be more surprised than Susan Brady-Henry. A great health-benefit story comes from this new pickleball player, who has only been playing three months with amazing results. 
According to Susan, “In March 2018, I contracted a virus that settled in my inner ear and caused extreme vertigo. I could not walk without holding on to someone or something like furniture around the house. I walked like a drunk, swaying from side to side, and I walked into walls. I spent so much of my time and effort trying to stay balanced and I lost memory and concentration, which is a very common side effect for people with vestibular problems.” 

After one year, Susan was just recently diagnosed with Bilateral Vestibular Loss, or a loss of the balance nerve in both ears. The only recommended treatment from her Otolaryngologist /ENT doctor was balance therapy. She has had 78 sessions at one hour each using NASA equipment and balance exercises that train her eyes and feet to tell the brain where her head is in space. Starting out slowly with pickleball lessons from Raudel, Susan now plays three times a week. The game has become a form of balance therapy for her. 

She says, “My balance therapist is very pleased with my improvement and we use my pickleball paddle and balls sometimes in therapy.” Although there is no cure but to maintain the balance she has left, her ENT doctor wants her to get a lot of movement and to walk using a walking- stick. But Susan says, “Let's see, walking stick or pickleball paddle? I choose the paddle.  I am so much happier since I found this sport. It is helping me both physically and emotionally and I meet many new pickleball friends.”  

 Free paddles will be given for the first six students that sign up. Silver Paddle participants receive a $10 discount. 

For more information about Silver Paddles, contact Vern West at [email protected] or visit