ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —  Local residents can find Scott Willis playing pickleball several times a week. His teammate, Dr. Ed Carlson is right alongside him.

Willis is 74 and Carlson is 82. They both say pickleball keeps them young. Willis experienced just how beneficial the sport can be after suffering a stroke.

What You Need To Know

  • The St. Petersburg Pickleball Association is teaming up with the PARC Center for Disabilities to create a Special Olympics team

  • Dr. Ed Carlson serves as an ambassador for Pickleball USA, engaging the special needs community was an important mission for him

  •  Pickleball is a sport for people of all ages and abilities

“I had a major stroke about a year-and-a-half ago and I had a little bit of a balance problem. It took about 3 or 4 weeks, but pickleball helped me get my balance back,” Willis said.

It’s not just about the physical benefits, pickleball is a social sport too, which is why both men are so passionate about sharing the game with others.

They’re a part of the St. Petersburg Pickleball Association and recently, they’ve taken on some new students, teaming up with the PARC Center for Disabilities.

“I’ve wanted to tell people that anybody can play this sport, so when I first found out about the chance to work with this group, I jumped at it,” Willis said.  

Dr. Carlson serves as an ambassador for Pickleball USA, engaging the special needs community was an important mission for him.

“Exercise, being outside, the enjoyment of it, the camaraderie of it, team building aspect of it, and they’re all participating in it and having fun every step of the way,” Carlson said.

Their ages range from 20's to 70's, but they all experience the same benefits.

“You’ve got the social aspect of it, so they’re having a good time with that, they get out in the sun, they’re getting exercise,” Willis said. “They just have a great time the second they get out here and their confidence builds daily.”

52-year-old Holly Digiacomo has found a new passion.

“It’s cool because you’re with different people, you’re out in the community, you’re doing pickleball,” she said.

Giving her confidence that she takes into all areas of her life.

“If we can do it, the coaches can do it, you can do it, just put your mind to it, I know if you put your mind to it, you can do it,” Digiacomo said.

For the coaches, these lessons go beyond teaching a sport, they’re creating a special experience.

“Something new every time, what we’re trying to do is make it fun for them, they go through the basics, we’re teaching them the initial stokes, the initial things they need to do to play pickleball and they’re picking up very quickly,” Willis said.

They’re also working towards a common goal.

“They’re planning on playing in the Special Olympics coming up, they’re progressing very well and I think they’re going to be successful,” Willis said.

Learning new skills and building a deeper bond. Showing the community that pickleball is playable for all.

“They’re closer to each other from having experience the teamwork,” Carlson said. “What it shows me is that anybody can play, but at the end of the day, what I see is a smile on everyone’s face. They’re having a good time out here, if they hit a good shot, it’s an ear to ear smile and they just love it,” Willis said.

Smiles all around for everyone involved.

“You hear lots of laughing, sometimes people are laughing so hard they can’t play pickleball,” Carlson said. “It makes me feel good in my heart and whole being, it’s great.”