Waco Chat

Jodi Thurman

By Kevin Tankersley

Pickleball Head Pro at Waco Regional Tennis and Fitness Center

“That’s what’s so great about this game. It’s not just the super athletes that can play. Anybody can play.”

I’ve been into sports all my life. I used to do triathlons, long distance cycling. I ran a couple of marathons, played volleyball, softball, basketball, hiking, golf, you know, pretty much anything that you can think of, I probably tried it at least once. [Pickleball] was a God send. It turned my life around, got me back out in the world. I’ve met so many new people and made so many new friends. It’s been wonderful.

It’s a hybrid sport between tennis, table tennis and badminton, and that’s kind of the origin of the name. It originated up in Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. Three dads made up the game for their kids. One of the wives said that [the name] came about because there’s a boat where they take leftover crew members for rowing. That crew is called the pickle boat because it’s a mishmash of different crews. This sport is a kind of a mishmash of different sports, games that they all put together and so that’s how they came up with pickleball.

Jodi Thurman is the head pro of pickleball at Waco Regional Tennis and an ambassador for USA Pickleball, and is sponsored by Engage Pickleball, which sells pickleball paddles, gear and accessories. Thurman, 60, retired as systems manager for McLennan County’s Information Technology Department after her husband, Army pilot Paul Thurman, died in 2012. Her friend Renee Parker suggested a pickleball clinic at First Woodway Baptist Church. A lifelong athlete, Thurman – who is also a cancer survivor – immediately took to the sport.

The court is much smaller than tennis, but it’s similar where you serve cross court, but the rules are quite different. There’s no overhead serves. Everything has to be underhand. The ball has to bounce once on each side before you can start hitting it out of the air and slamming it.

The beauty of the game is that it was designed so that everybody could play. It took away the advantage of the quickness and strength of people. All the rules came about to kind of neutralize the game. I can get on the court and play with 20-somethings and be competitive. Kids and adults can play together. That’s what’s so great about this game. It’s not just the super athletes that can play. Anybody can play.

This game is very addictive. It’s not unusual for people to be out here playing for two to three hours, just game after game after game. It’s so addictive and so fun and social. You’re on a smaller court, you’re close, so you can talk to other people on the court. It’s not like you’re really far apart like on a tennis court.

The games don’t last forever, so in between, you come off the court and you visit and then maybe you mix up your foursome and you go back out and play again. The game is so much fun because it takes away the extreme athleticism and it’s the great equalizer.

I teach beginners all the time. By the end of the four-week course, they’re just having a ball. They just love it. The first night that we have a class, they’re playing and having fun and enjoying it. I can teach you in one session how to play the game.