COLUMBIA — When he heard seven months ago that the Iowa Senior Olympics would include pickleball this year, Steve Stone thought it was time to pick up his first paddle.
Stone, 53, traveled from Des Moines, Iowa, to compete in a doubles competition at the Missouri State Senior Games on Friday with his friend Ron Stiers, 67, from Coralville, Iowa. They are the only pickleball ambassadors for the USA Pickleball Association from Iowa, and they traveled to Columbia to practice for the Senior Olympics next weekend in Iowa.
Even though Stone is still new to the game of pickleball, he was able to adapt to the sport because of his experience playing paddle tennis. Paddle tennis, which is played on a surface similar to a tennis court with a deflated tennis ball, helped Stone with his offensive pickleball game. Pickleball is played with a ball similar to a Wiffle ball and a wooden paddle and can be played as doubles or singles.
"The first time I played, a guy who had been playing for 15 years couldn't believe he lost to a person who had barely played a day," Stone said. "The first serve was an ace, and he goes, 'You've played this before.'"
Stiers picked up his first paddle five years ago when he was in Arizona for the winter. He had never heard of the sport before then. Now, he is trying to spread the support's popularity through Iowa. Even his license plate reads PKLBALL.
"Nobody had ever heard of it before, and I would have to explain it," Stiers said. "I will go into a gas station, and people will say, 'What the heck is pickleball?' I'll do anything to promote it."