Parkinson’s Patients Learn to Play Pickleball

Ann Goodwin and Rosemary Freeman, organizers of the Parkinson’s Pickleball group

Rosemary Freeman, a retired lobbyist, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about two years ago. “I was trying to learn pickleball at the time,” she said. “I couldn’t play well and I couldn’t figure out why. That’s when I found out I had Parkinson’s.”

When Freeman, who is a member of the Capitol Hill Village, recovered from the shock of the diagnosis, she wanted to learn the game. “When I thought about playing, I realized I needed a supportive pickleball program that challenged me enough to enjoy the game but not so much that I get frustrated.”

Freeman went to Ann Goodwin, Capitol Hill’s pickleball organizer who has been playing for about six-and-a-half years, for help. “Last fall, Rosemary and I got the Parkinson Pickleball program off the ground. We have great support from the larger Capitol Hill community,” Goodwin said.

They are adding exercises to the program that include developing hand coordination, balance and focus. “I get a physical and mental boost from playing,” said Freeman.  “We have modified the standard pickleball rules to accommodate new players. “We follow the three Eses (sic).  We play to six points [standard is 11 points], we play a slower and a shorter game,” explained Goodwin.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinsons each year, and there will be 1.2 million people living with the disease by 2030. Symptoms usually develop slowly and may include tremors, slowness, limb stiffness as well as gait and balance problems.

No matter what the symptoms, all people with Parkinson’s need to incorporate movement into their lives.  Pickleball is a perfect exercise to possibly slow the disease’s progress. The Foundation recommends aerobic activity, strength training and stretching and pickleball is a sport that can help with all those. “We play with others experiencing the same challenges. I come off the court with a feeling of accomplishment and the idea I am able to think of myself as a pickleball player rather than a person with Parkinson’s,” said Freeman.

Aram Terzian, 86, has been playing pickleball for about two years. When he sits on the bench in between games he shakes. But when he gets onto the court, he becomes one of the most skilled male players in the group. “I just love sports and being active,” he said. “It helps me with balance. It’s also a morale builder because it’s something I can do well enough.”

Bonnie’s on it!

Terzian was diagnosed at 79. He was a racquetball player for 40 years but after play was halted because of the Covid shutdown, he realized, because of his balance, he couldn’t play as quickly as he did before.

Terzian describes having Parkinson’s as similar to being in battle. “You have to fight the good fight to keep on top of it. If you let it define you, it will overwhelm you.”

Paul Orum, a yoga teacher on Capitol Hill for decades, took up pickleball after he was diagnosed. “I started playing out of curiosity and because mind-body movement helps with Parkinson’s. Pickleball complements other mind-body activities I do like yoga, tai chi, cycling, dance for Parkinson’s, and meditation.”

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis and is played on a court similar in size to badminton. Two or four players use paddles made of wood or graphite to hit a whiffle ball over a net. The game is played until one team reaches a score of 11. According to legend, the game was created by Washington state politician Joel Pritchard to entertain his bored family during the summer of 1965. It is the fastest growing sport in the United States for the third year in a row, according to the Sport & Fitness Industry Association. The 2023 APP Pickleball Participation Report released details that 36.5 million people have played at least once in the past year – 14 percent of the adult population.


Mark Mcelreath, Bonnie Hillsberg, Rosemary Freeman and Paul Orum. On the court at Rosedale

Benefits of Playing with Parkinson’s

Pickleball can provide just the type of exercise many with Parkinson’s need. Because of the changes in length and speed of one’s stride, pickleball can improve a shuffling gait. Directional changes necessary in the game can improve balance. Trunk rotation can improve axial rigidity. Overhead strokes can improve exterior muscle flexibility.

“When I play pickleball, I feel stronger, more capable and more normal,” said Freeman. “Physically, I feel that the value of the exercise is apparent almost right away. I am looser, and my body feels like it belongs to me and not Parkinson’s. It makes me happy.”

Parkinson’s patients play pickleball indoors at the Rosedale Recreation Center on Gale St NE on Fridays. Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to have Parkinson’s to play. Freeman and Goodwin ask that anyone who is interested please review basic pickleball rules on YouTube before starting to play.

For more information call Freeman at: 202-547-2647 or Goodwin at: 202-669-1290.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy, get fit and get well. Please contact her at: