If you are among the few who have not yet jumped on the pickleball trend, let’s start with some basics. Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell invented the game after attempting to play badminton but instead improvised with paddles and a plastic ball because they couldn’t locate necessary equipment. There are two theories on how the sport gained its name. The first of these is that it’s named after Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who chased the ball around the court. Another theory is that the moniker came about from the combination of badminton, ping pong, and tennis reminding the creators of a “pickleboat,” which has a crew made up of leftover oarsmen from other boats.
All of this is familiar for TCU physics professor Zygmunt (Karol) Gryczynski. While his focus in the lab is on fluorescence spectroscopy, biomedical diagnostics, forensic, drug development/delivery, and nanophotonics, in his free time Gryczynski is a pickleball phenom. He shares a little about his journey in the sport.
When did you first learn about pickleball, and what was your first experience playing?
I started playing pickleball at the end of 2018. My wife and I were on vacation in Angel Fire where I was finishing my book. This is very boring work of rereading and rewriting, and my wife wanted me to do some exercise to keep me in better shape. Especially since I always was quite active. I play semi-professional ping-pong and high-level tennis. But in Angel Fire mountains village, it was difficult to find any partner. She found a local group that played a game called pickleball. I laughed at first, but she showed me the game on YouTube, and I decided that it is worth trying. And she was right. I met a group of very friendly and accepting people that explained the rules and showed me how to play. With my background in ping-pong and tennis, it was natural to me. I quickly became an enthusiast. At that time pickleball was rather an unknown game that was just gaining momentum. There are a number of reasons for quickly growing in popularity. First, if you played any racket game, you quickly become good at it. Second, the single game takes 10-15 minutes, and you have break/change. This opens time for short conversation, so it is social like golf but pushes you to much more intensive exercise. Five years ago, the game was played mostly by seniors (50+), retired tennis, racquetball, ping-pong players and a few young guys. But within the last five years, it has changed a lot. You start seeing it on TV, and a lot of young players came out as a professional. Last year the first professional league opened.
What titles have you won?
I play mostly locally (DFW). I teach and can only play on weekends. The few exemptions were, for example, 2021 Nationals in Indian Wells. But DFW has a lot of players, and a lot of big tournaments are happening here. This year Nationals are played in Brookhaven Club in Dallas. So, I have had a lot of successes here. I am including a picture from this year’s Senior Nationals played in Rockwell. I have won quite a lot of regionals (Southwest) and local tournaments in DFW.
Who do you typically play against?
Pickleball has age categories (19+, 35+, 50+, 55+, 60+, 65+, 70+, 75+) and different skills. So, at tournaments I typically play my age category or play down (you can play with younger players but cannot sign up to play with older). But in recreational play, you do not care. Especially in doubles where an age difference of 10-15 years is not that dramatic. For example, TCU opened a pickleball club, and I occasionally play with our students.
If you’d like to try out pickleball for yourself, there’s a place to play near TCU campus. Courtside Kitchen is located at 1615 Rogers Road, and you can book a court online.