In a time and place so very long ago—think more moving around to Nirvana at a seventh-grade dance and less millennial—I used to be athletic. I never went pro, I didn’t get a scholarship to play anything in college, and I am 100-percent certain I would be incredibly hard-pressed to make a foul shot or run a 10-minute mile if you challenged me this very minute.
But, prior to being a 43-year-old individual in the time frame called now, I was fairly decent at a handful of sports—tennis being one of them.
My mom used to tell me that, if I could learn the game, it would be a good skill to have in my professional life. (I don’t know the official count of courts in New York, but I am confident it’s not a whole lot…ironically, I’ve lived in a diamond-in-the-rough apartment building for seven-plus years that has one on the roof, and I’ve never met my coworkers up there, nor have I ever made the move to get up there myself. I am also quite certain if I told anyone to meet me up there, they would be quite concerned.)
I’m not saying that she was wrong, but I am saying it’s safe to say I never really listened to that piece of advice after I turned 18 and stopped playing after my senior season.
Until, one day, I landed at the amazingly great resort and spa that is Rancho Valencia, a eucalyptus-lined, award-winning hideaway right in the aptly name town of Rancho Santa Fe. My good friend Heather (I’ve known her since before the Nirvana days, so I trust her advice), now lives a quick car ride away from Rancho and she has told me for years it is THE PLACE to go. My other good friend, our very own chairman of the board, plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD has also been known to pick up my call from the courts, reiterating the very truth that making a trip there isn’t as much of an option as it is a necessity.
So, earlier this summer, I made the move to get there.
The resort is a hop, skip and a jump from San Diego, where I had spent a couple of days at a trade show, predicated by a couple of events in Los Angeles and the road in-between the two (read: tired). As my car pulled up to the guard desk, the very kind attendant told me they were expecting me and helped me make my way up the dirt path to my gigantic room—at least four or five times the size of my apartment—that was nestled behind some magenta-colored flowers and an opulently relaxing, yet still fitting the bill as “understated luxurious,” plunge pool.
My first night there felt like the first time I had slept it seven days. The beds are comfy, and the rooms get totally dark after the sun goes down—a very positive amenity that is in some stiff competition with the full-size NaturaBisse products found in the bathrooms, the freshly squeezed O.J. that pops up at your door every morning, and the free local popcorn in the mini-bars.
Once the sun came up, I made my way down the path to the pickleball courts (there are four on the property and there’s a beginner clinic every Friday, as well as a bunch of private lessons and complimentary drop-in plays), the main thought was that I hoped it would go fast so I could start on the cold brew and make a casual escape to the spa and set up shop at one of the private poolside cabanas.
My second thought was that I hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself; I wasn’t necessarily nervous, but I was pretty sure it would be safe to say my performance would be poor at best.
I quickly learned pickleball isn’t *exactly like tennis, which I had wrongly assumed it was. The paddle is different, so is the ball and the way it’s scored, and the court is a bit smaller—but most of the moves are similar and seem a lot easier on an out-of-shape body. I also learned that that stats for people playing the pastime in the U.S. are pretty impressive: According to the USA Pickleball Association, the sport is the fastest-growing one in the nation, counting 4.8 million (!) players last year, an almost 15-percent growth from the year prior.
As we got going with the lesson, I realized that if I just listened (a novel idea) to the very patient and kind instructors, I might be able to hold a competitive game with the other players in my group. I had to get a little better backhand—who doesn’t?—and I needed a lot of soft reminders for how to keep score, but I was ready to go.
An hour-and-a-half later, the time had flown. I had a nice sweat going, my heart rate was up, and a little bit of my high-school sports’ persona seemed to still be in there.
My doubles’ team didn’t win, but, darn, did it feel good to know I could still be somewhat-competitive at a sport that didn’t involve just watching it on T.V. or from the stands.
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