VISUALIZING OUTSTANDING VOLLEYS
Fine-Tuning Your Serve
Where Should I Hit the Ball?
By Drew Wathey
The Wheels are in Motion
At 22 years old, life is often filled with dreams, hopes and aspirations. Optimism abounds as young adults venture out to begin the next chapter of their lives. All was going according to plan for Philippe Bedard until one day in 2002, after months of not feeling quite right, a diagnosis of lupus suddenly put his goals and ambitions on hold. Inflammation of his spine eventually led to paralysis, a condition that has afflicted him for nearly half of his adult life.
He recalls, “I was really scared because it was life threatening—I got really sick and spent more than 700 days in the hospital for the five years that followed my diagnosis. So I was basically just trying to survive.”
Survival can manifest itself in many different forms, from mental to physical to spiritual. Philippe tapped all three. His one salvation, one that has stayed with him, is sports: “When I got a chance to leave the hospital, my goal was to exercise. I started with pushing my wheelchair, then hand cycling, and finally wheelchair tennis. Sports gave me the opportunity to rehabilitate myself both physically and mentally.”
His main sport now—the one he’s most passionate about—is pickleball, introduced to him by his good friend and former wheelchair tennis partner Jean Francois. An ATV accident forced Jean to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Philippe grew up in the small town of Bromont, 50 miles north of Montreal, the city he now calls home. His trek to the 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships was made a lot easier this year knowing that wheelchair pickleball, also known as adaptive pickleball, was to be an exhibition there.
At the 2020 version of the sport’s premier event, wheelchair will have its own separate division. “I’m really excited we can join the party,” says Philippe. “The goal is to be there with the world’s best players, and as our sport develops, our level of play will also develop, and soon we’ll have players from all around the world competing and this tournament will become the best in the world. It’s such a privilege to be at the same event as standing people; no other wheelchair sport has that. It clearly shows that pickleball is such a welcoming and accessible sport, and better yet, it has an amazing vibe.”
While Philippe loves to compete, it’s his work off the court that is enabling wheelchair pickleball to attain new heights. He explains, “My new role is to further develop the sport, the rule book, scheduling exhibitions, using my wheelchair tennis experience to help grow Para Pickleball and make it the best sport possible.”
There are a few differences in the sport for the wheelchair participants. They are allowed two bounces before hitting the ball, and the no volley zone—affectionately called “the kitchen”— is off limits for the chair’s main rear wheels. The smaller wheels/ casters are allowed in the area while attempting shots.
At this year’s Nationals, Philippe and other participants delighted the crowd with their shot-making abilities and tireless movement on their wheelchairs. Joining Philippe on the court were JF Sylvestre, Todd Hanover and Sergio Naduville.
“It was simply spectacular. The crowds at this year’s Nationals, the reception we received, and the overall quality of play was more than I could have hoped for,” says Philippe. “It has really set the stage for next year and I couldn’t be more excited for 2020!”
He adds, “Having played 10 years of professional wheelchair tennis and traveling 20 weeks a year to qualify for Paralympics, I was due for something different, and pickleball was it. What I enjoy most about the sport is the new role I have—using my tennis experience to develop Para Pickleball to make it the best para sport possible. I’m rewriting the rule book to make it accessible and easy for everyone to play. I’m heavily promoting our sport in Canada and USA by staging exhibitions, introducing pickleball to so many who have never seen it played before.”
“It’s such a privilege to be at the same event as standing people; no other wheelchair sport has that. It clearly shows that pickleball is such a welcoming and accessible sport, and better yet, it has an amazing vibe.”
Philippe and his compatriots got their first taste of a major introduction at the 2019 US Open, played annually in Naples, Florida. “Being on Center Court with worldclass professionals like Simone Jardim and Catherine Parenteau was absolutely fantastic,” he notes. “It’s special to be included in the same major tournament as the pros, a first in para sports.”
Every pickleball event Philippe has been associated with has resonated with him in such a positive way that he knows he’s on the right path in his endeavors. “The crowds at Indian Wells this year were simply amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception for our players,” he says. “It is my hope that one day wheelchair pickleball will develop and eventually expand globally and become part of the official Olympic roster of sports. What we have realized just in the past few years has not only been encouraging, but has provided us with enough inspiration and perseverance to move forward with added energy. I couldn’t be more enthused for our sport’s future.”