Pickleball, Parkinson's, and Persistence: The Inspiring Journey of Scott Rider
Former all-American track star at Ohio State, Scott Rider, was taken aback when he was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease at only 47. Now 63, Scott shares his inspiring journey of how pickleball has helped him manage his condition and continue leading an active life.
Scott was introduced to pickleball six years ago when his neighborhood set up temporary courts. He, along with his wife, were immediately drawn to the sport. With the community's growing interest, they eventually had four new courts in their neighborhood. Today, Scott plays at the Habersham Club in league play.
Parkinson's Disease, or PD, is a movement disorder that makes even the simplest physical tasks challenging. It results from the insufficient production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that aids not only in creating happiness but also in facilitating movement. There's currently no cure, but exercise can slow down the disease's progression. For Scott, pickleball proved to be the perfect fit for several reasons.
PD often causes cognitive and memory issues. The task of keeping score in pickleball serves as a great mental exercise. However, what truly stands out is how the sport facilitates movement. The fast-paced nature of pickleball requires quick reflexes, which is manageable given the sport's relatively small court size. Not only does the sport necessitate quick decision making about where to place the ball and where your partner is, but it also encourages social interactions - something many people with PD struggle with due to embarrassment or apathy.
Apathy is a common, but lesser talked about issue among people with PD. Many individuals affected by the disease tend to be less social. However, the inherently social nature of pickleball helps counteract this, getting people moving quickly on the court and interacting with others.
Scott, a two-time All American and a participant in the 1984 Olympic trials, primarily ran the 800 meters and 4x400 relay during his time at Ohio State. Interestingly, he noticed that he has a reduced tremor when he plays pickleball, attributing this phenomenon possibly to the excitement the sport brings. Similar to biking, pickleball helps reduce his tremors significantly. Scott, who's always used a Selkirk paddle throughout his pickleball journey, relishes the sport's competitive nature. Seeing people react to his tremors and then snapping the ball at their feet brings him immense satisfaction, offering an experience closest to what he felt in college.
With over a million people diagnosed with Parkinson's in the U.S and a new diagnosis every six minutes, pickleball provides a competitive sport well-suited for people with PD. As Scott puts it, "Pickleball makes you feel normal," as it doesn't pose a significant disadvantage despite the limitations PD brings.
After a successful 30-year career as a financial advisor, Scott is now retired. His favorite pickleball paddle is the lightweight Selkirk Labs 003 Epic, which he prefers due to its comfortable grip and the speed it allows him.
Scott also keeps an eye on the professional pickleball scene and admires Tyson McGuffin for his authenticity, calling Tyson a “real guy who is who he wants to be” which Scott says he admires immensely. Scott is also passionate about raising awareness of PD, supporting nonprofits like the Parkinson's Foundation and the Michael J Fox Foundation.
Scott sees how pickleball is a great fit for those with PD, and he wants to be a part of spreading the message. He is not at a shortage of ideas, with aspirations for a Parkinson’s tournament, paddles designed for those with PD, a Parkinson’s specific instructional series and more.
Scott's journey exemplifies resilience, adaptability, and a never-say-die attitude. His story illuminates the power of sport, not just as a form of physical therapy, but as a social and psychological tool to combat the challenges posed by a life-altering condition like Parkinson's disease. I will sum it up with a quote from Scott:
"When one finishes 2nd on the court they have a choice. Give up and quit or keep working daily to get better. Having Parkinson’s is sort of like finishing second. It is not the life one wants but I am determined to fight the disease the best that I am able."
Shortly after concluding my interview with Scott, I received an email from him asking if he could add one more thing. Scott was concerned he portrayed his journey with Parkinson’s without owning how dark it can be on some days. Although pickleball has improved his life in so many ways, there are still days he wants to stay on the couch. Some days his leg "stops working" and he has to deal with that. He often needs help getting dressed just to go play. It is tough both physically and emotionally to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in ways that I can’t imagine. But I personally admired Scott’s vulnerability and authenticity to call me back and say “I don’t always have it together”. But Scott also has a constant reminder he wears on his wrist, a wristband that says "I will never quit". Scott said, and I agree, this is an important part to his story. Although some days his condition keeps him off the court, Scott will never quit, and he remains steadfast in his commitment to playing pickleball and sharing the benefits that result from playing this sport.
Learn more about Scott's journey in this recent feature: