Wheelchair athletes to compete in Meijer state games for first time

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Pickleball has been gaining attention over the past few years as one of the fastest growing sport in the country. For the first time in the history of the Meijer State Games of Michigan, wheelchair athletes will be competing.

The sport can be played by people of all abilities and is easy to learn. It's a paddle sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping pong on a court with a lower net.

We met up with a few athletes from West Michigan who think you'd be surprised at just how good they are.

David Briggs is  one of three Michigan State Games athletes who's playing pickleball in a wheelchair in the state games competition this weekend.

"I’m sitting lower than everyone else, but they don’t treat us any different around here," Briggs said. "You’re just like them out here playing."

Briggs was in a dirt bike accident back in 2000 when he severed his spinal cord.

"I can only feel about a quarter of my body.  But that doesn’t stop us.  We like to come out and have fun," Briggs said.

"Pickleball one of the beauties of it is it’s all incorporating, anybody who has any disabilities can play," said Linda Jirous, Pickleball Ambassador and Vice President GR Pickleball Club.

It's not just fun but they play to win. Player Patrick Besta says people are surprised at just how good they can be.

"When we first go out there everybody wants to hit it really nice to ya and I say ‘Don’t be nice, Don’t be nice.’  Cause if they do hit it nice I just hit it hard right at em," Besta said.

As far as the rules for the game, they're only slightly different.

"The adaptive rule for pickle ball is that the athletes get two bounces," Jirous said. "An up person can hit the ball in the air or can hit it off one bounce."

"It’s gonna be different because I know probably 90% of those guys haven’t seen somebody in a chair play.  It’s kinda to our advantage at first because they will see it bounce twice and say oh wait it’s done.  Then we hit it over and they say oh wait I forgot.  So for a few minutes we get a little advantage," Besta said.

"We’ve been playing against people that have been playing 5 to 10 years so no, we’re just like anybody else.  And this is one of really the few sports that we can play with able bodied people," Briggs said. "It’s not real fair to play basketball with an able bodied person.  So tennis, pickle ball are really only just a few of the sports we can play competitively with."

Plus, it's the perfect way to stay active and show off their skills on the court...

"Their talent is just amazing.  It’s just amazing," Jirous said. "It opens a whole different world to people with disabilities.  They have capabilities.  They’re human beings," he said.

The pickleball tournament will be held June 14th to 16th at the Belknap Park, 30 Coldbrook St NE, at 8 a.m. If it rains, the game will be moved indoors to Grand Rapids Racquet and Fitness, 4940 Plainfield Ave NE.

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