For Dartmouth, Massachusetts, native Michael Lipp, there is nothing greater than the game of pickleball.
“Playing pickleball has led me to become the happiest person alive,” Lipp says.
After retiring from a career as a high school teacher at the age of 62, Lipp was on the lookout for an activity that would not only keep him healthy but also allow him to connect with others.
While he enjoys gardening and swimming, he sought a more socially engaging hobby.
"When I found pickleball, it met all my needs," Lipp shares. "I get to talk to people, have fun, be athletic, be competitive, and that's just all the things I was hoping to have in my life."
But for Lipp, pickleball isn’t just about the social aspect, it’s also about the competition. Lipp travels nationwide participating in pickleball tournaments and has amassed countless medals, including one gold and four silver medals at the US Open Pickleball Championships.
And he’s done it all on wheels.
Lipp, who uses a wheelchair to play pickleball, had polio as a young child. He says he can’t remember a time when he didn’t use a brace or crutches to assist his walking.
Although his family always fostered his competitive nature through activities such as swimming and golf, he thought sports that involved running were out of the question.
After some encouragement from his wife, Lipp tried wheelchair tennis and eventually found his way to wheelchair pickleball — and he never looked back.
The only game difference between players who use a wheelchair and those who don’t is that players who use a wheelchair get two bounces while players who don’t get one bounce.
Of course, using a wheelchair to play comes with its unique set of challenges, including the need for a sports wheelchair, which differs from a regular wheelchair due to its capacity for higher speeds. These specialized chairs can be expensive, often exceeding $2,500, making them inaccessible for some aspiring athletes.
But Lipp says a common challenge he faces is his opponents’ perceptions.
"If you're playing doubles, most of the balls will go to your partner rather than to you,” Lipp says. “But once they realize that you're good, they'll hit balls to you, and that's how you know you're accepted and you're doing all right."
To make his mark on the court, Lipp uses a lot of spin and strategically places his shots to put opponents in unfavorable positions, leading to errors that his partners can capitalize on.
Since starting his pickleball journey, Lipp has traveled the country participating in tournaments, taking home medals in wheelchair-only tournaments, hybrid tournaments where one partner uses a wheelchair and the other doesn’t, and as the only player to use a wheelchair in a tournament.
His favorite achievements include being named the 2022 Bay State Male Athlete of the Year and earning gold in singles and silver in wheelchair doubles and hybrid doubles at the 2022 US Open.
"It was very exciting because I got to be on Center Court to play," Lipp says. "I got to be on YouTube, and all my friends at home were watching — it was pretty thrilling."
And although Lipp says winning medals is exciting, pickleball for him, is about bettering himself.
"I just want to be the best version of myself, and as long as I keep finding myself getting better, that's what motivates me to play. It's not about winning; it's about being the best version of myself. It's about being the best player that I could hope to be."
As someone invested in championing the growth of wheelchair pickleball, Lipp is an active participant in United States Wheelchair Pickleball Association tournaments. Most recently, the USWPA held a tournament for wheelchair athletes at Chicken N Pickle in Dallas the same weekend as the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships.
Now on Selkirk’s AMPED Team, Lipp hopes to encourage more people to try it out as he says using a wheelchair can unlock limitless potential for many.
However, Lipp acknowledges that there's still a stigma associated with using a wheelchair, something he hopes will change as more wheelchair pickleball events are held around the country.
"Using a wheelchair has meant the world to me,” Lipp said. “I can move so much faster. I don't fall down, I have fewer accidents than other people, and it just opens a pathway to joy for me."