Multiple sclerosis doesn’t stop this Parkite from pickleballing
August 19, 2018
Beverly Chaidez is just getting to know her sport wheelchair.
Weakened by multiple sclerosis, the apparatus currently providing her best shot at continuing to play competitive pickleball – an activity she says gives her purpose every day, and which has a community that has helped both she and her family in times of need. For Chaidez, who friends describe as strong and tenacious, giving up the game — even for the few months she expects to be in a wheelchair — was out of the question. So she is practicing.
The chair is wide, low-slung and sports a rear caster wheel – attributes that make it more stable than a regular wheelchair.
It's also capable of going a lot faster. With one quick turn of the wheels she can cover much more of the Willow Creek Park tennis court in less time than her old chair would have. She hopes to have become proficient in using the wheelchair by Labor Day weekend, when she will compete in the Pickleball for Heroes tournament in Arvada, Colorado.
Becoming a pickleball player
Myrna Lueck, Chaidez' sister, introduced her to the game three years ago, and since then, Chaidez said "99.9 percent" of her friends are from the pickleball community.
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Lueck said the group of pickleballers the sisters met are the people they go on vacations, ski and attend social functions with.
"These are the people closest to me," Chaidez said. "They've just been amazing."
For the past three years, Chaidez played pickleball while standing, but last winter her MS, which was diagnosed in 1988, started getting worse.
Multiple sclerosis causes the body to attack the fatty lining of the central nervous system, causing a variety of symptoms that can effect a person's balance, mood, vision, strength and even intestinal function.
In January, she and Lueck started to worry about her health.
"She was not as clear-headed as she is now," Lueck said. "She was very foggy, very depressed, scared of not knowing where the progression of (MS) is going to stop and not knowing if it's going to kill her."
Chaidez and Lueck had attended a conference in Atlanta just a month earlier where they met with doctors from Clinica Ruiz, a company with clinics in Puebla and Monterrey, Mexico, that specializes in an experimental treatment for autoimmune diseases. Though the procedure is has not been approved by the FDA, Chaidez and Lueck saw it as the best available option for treating MS. Chaidez scheduled a treatment for April, but moved it back to November because of a scheduling conflict.
When Chaidez's health took its downturn, she and Lueck moved the appointment up to the end of January.
"It was very scary," Chaidez said. "I kind of didn't think I was coming home alive."
Chaidez described the treatment by saying it would functionally reset her immune system through chemotherapy and other processes.
When Chaidez returned, she had to rely on a wheelchair for mobility, but she started playing pickleball as soon as she could.
Two days later she was on the courts, and a week after that she registered for Pickleball for Heroes.
"Before the wheelchair she was very competitive," said Mark Mollner, her friend and mixed doubles partner in the Pickleball for Heroes tournament, who is able bodied. "She had a good forehand, she was quick, but as the MS started to take hold her game started to diminish, but she was still as energetic as she could be and really showed a lot of tenacity in trying to keep up with the group."
She originally registered for the tournament thinking it was specifically for people in wheelchairs – the main image on the website is of a person playing pickleball in a wheelchair. It turned out only three people in wheelchairs have registered for the competition, but Chaidez is still intent on going. In addition to competing in mixed doubles, Chaidez will compete alongside her sister in the women's doubles.
Recovery and training
In the time since her treatment, Chaidez and Lueck said the local pickleball community has been extremely supportive.
"Three times a week somebody brings us a meal," Chaidez said.
People have also volunteered to help the athlete move her equipment, including her chair, in and out of the car.
There was also the time when one pickler helped fix the water softener at her house.
"We hardly knew him," Lueck said of the helpful acqaintance. "We were having a problem with the water softener and he came over and (fixed it)."
Another time, someone from the pickleball community fixed her sprinkler system.
"(Chaidez) has such a small lawn that she couldn't get a landscaper to take a look at it," Lueck explained. "(A friend) spent a couple hours fixing it."
The pickleball players volunteer to help her practice, like last Wednesday at Willow Creek, when Bob and Mary Whelan took the court against Chaidez and Lueck. To warm up, the teams only played in the two seven-foot "kitchens" of the court, where no volleying is allowed.
When Bob hit a ball through Beverly's corner, she was unable to reach it.
"Sorry Bev," Whelan said.
Chaidez told him not to be sorry — her opponents at the tournament wouldn't be.
But that didn't keep Lueck from ribbing him.
"You meanie!" She said, playfully.
Over the course of an hour – her second day in the sports chair – Chaidez found some of her strengths and weaknesses. Its stability is one of its most immediate advantages, allowing her to play more confidently without worrying about tipping over. She can also turn much faster. Returning serves is still an issue, since her lateral movement is limited, and it's hard to dig shots out from directly in front of or at the chair.
Chaidez is confident she can find ways to mitigate those challenges before heading to Arvada at the end of the month.
"I'm going to figure it out," she said. "I don't have much time."
Even if she doesn't become a flawless wheelchair pickleball player, that's OK, Chaidez said. Her hope is that she will be playing on her feet again within the next four or five months, after her body has recovered from her treatment.
For now, though, she's focused on making the best of her situation.
"I fully intend to be on the medal stand," she said. "No pressure."
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