South Charlotte

Can pickleball help someone who has Parkinson’s? You bet

Pickleball for Parkinson's

The Parkinson Association of the Carolinas, USA Pickleball, and the Marion Diehl Recreation Center are teaming up to offer a program for people afflicted with the disease.
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The Parkinson Association of the Carolinas, USA Pickleball, and the Marion Diehl Recreation Center are teaming up to offer a program for people afflicted with the disease.

Ever since Louis Ma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine months ago, his body has shown signs of betrayal.

The Indian Trail resident has started to shuffle a bit when he walks. His mind isn’t as sharp, he says. His sense of smell has disappeared. Fortunately for him, the shaking so commonly connected to Parkinson’s is not that obvious to others. Yet.

But Ma is a good steward of his doctor’s advice. He faithfully takes his medication and he trusts that exercise will help minimize his symptoms.

That’s why Ma dutifully reported to the Marion Diehl Recreation Center, 2219 Tyvola Road, Charlotte, earlier this month to test out pickleball, a sport new to him.

Through a partnership between the Parkinson Association of the Carolinasand USA Pickleball, the local recreation center is offering Pickleball for Parkinson’s, a weekly program tailored to those with the neurological disease and the people who support them.

“The big thing about people with Parkinson’s is they have a decrease in dopamine, a chemical in the brain that triggers a lot of their Parkinson’s symptoms,” said Ann Marie Oprikat, executive director of the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas. “The doctors tell them that exercise, exercise, exercise is important in bumping that up, but also medication.

“People are always looking for something they can do. It used to just be yoga. Then it was cycling. Now we’ve got Pickleball for Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson Association of the Carolinas provides assistance with educational outreach, and direct support through one-on-one conversations, a phone helpline, and providing networking information about activities such as Pickleball for Parkinson’s. Oprikat says Parkinson Association of the Carolinas connects with about 10,000 people every year.

Pickleball is often considered to be a combination of tennis, table tennis and badminton. It is played with a blunt, wooden paddle and a plastic ball and is often played indoors.

The concept for the local Parkinson’s program originated with a USA Pickleball district ambassador in Raleigh who reached out to local ambassadors Dick and Desire’ Osman, who live in Ballantyne. They picked up the sport a couple years ago and are instrumental in coordinating clinics, tournaments and recreational play in the greater Charlotte area.

The Osmans are witnesses to pickleball’s rapid growth in the Charlotte region over the past 10 years. They understand why it has appealed to a certain demographic.

“It’s a very easy game to learn and an easy game to play,” said Dick Osman. “There’s a lot of quick movement. There’s not nearly as much hard running as there is in tennis, which is a reason why it appeals to senior citizens quite a bit. But it’s a sport for people of all ages.

“With its therapeutic benefits we said let’s see what we can do for the Parkinson’s population and try to build some more play here at Marion Diehl.”

As someone who played tennis up until 20 years ago, Louis Ma was open to trying pickleball. During his first session, Ma stumbled on his feet a few times but wondered if it was as much do to his 75 years of age as his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Ma also participates in the Parkinson’s-centered yoga classes at the Harris YMCA Express as does Betsy Baskwell, another Pickleball for Parkinson’s participant. Baskwell also participates in a national Parkinson’s themed boxing program called Rock Steady Boxing at Just Workout Fitness Studio near Cotswold.

Baskwell was introduced to pickleball by her son-in-law, Patrick Norris, an experienced pickleball player. At her first clinic, she took turns teaming with Norris and Eileen Keough, a physical therapist, who was testing the sport so she could understand how it could benefit some of her Parkinson’s patients.

“When you’re exercising, your brain is also producing chemicals which they believe act as a neuro-protector for what is being destroyed in Parkinson’s,” said Keough, who works at Carolinas Rehabilitation. “If you’re exercising intensely, it’s protecting everything that is still viable and working.”

Pickleball for Parkinson’s is scheduled to continue at Marion Diehl Center at least through the end of April and possibly longer depending on the level of interest.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer:

Learn more

For information about Parkinson’s for Pickleball, contact either:

Ann Marie Obrikat, Parkinson Association of the Carolinas, 704-248-3722 or toll free at 866-903-PARK (7275) or email

Desire’ Osman, USA Pickleball, 704-341-9575 or email