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Gold-medal pickleball player stumbled onto the popular game at Glen Park Rec

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SANTA ROSA, CA – “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country,” Paul Johnson told the Glen Park News on March 19.

Johnson, who has resided on Detroit Street for three years, emigrated to United States seven years ago from Pershore, England, a small town near Bristol. He founded and operates Lemonaid Health, an online health provider that employs 130 people across the United States.

Two years ago serendipity enriched his life, catapulting him to a professional pickleball ranking and national recognition as a top-tier player.

“I was walking in Glen Canyon, an absolute secret gem and where it’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of San Francisco, and I stumbled upon the Recreation Center’s gym,” he said, about the 70-acre natural area that reminds him of the English hedgerow-lined mid-lands. “I thought I go inside and have a look.”

He came upon three courts accommodating a dozen pickleball players.

“I’d never heard of pickleball before,” he continued, about a paddle sport played on badminton courts and utilizing a specially manufactured ball, “and the next thing I know I hear from a friendly voice, ‘come in and grab a paddle.’”

No stranger to courtside sports, Johnson accepted the entreaty and since has become a celebrated pickleball player, now at a level allowing him to participate in professional tournaments,

“My father used to say I played tennis before I could walk,” he said.

Exchanging a childhood tennis racket for a pickleball paddle was a no brainer, especially since Rec and Park has been so welcoming. Well before COVID-19 changed our lives, Glen Park Recreation Center had extended a hospitable hello to picklers, encouraging them to share the Rec Center gym with basketball, volleyball and badminton players. Since March 2020, with the closure of indoor facilities, pickleball has been outsourced to several outdoor City courts including Louis Sutter Playground in McLaren Park where two underutilized tennis courts have been transformed into six courts dedicated to pickleball.

While unable to use Glen Park’s indoor recreation facility — converted one year ago into an Emergency Child and Youth Care Center to provide a safe place for children of first responders, health care workers and essential City employees — Louis Sutter, Upper Noe, Stern Grove, and Presidio Wall Playgrounds each now provides a haven for pickleball players. Each adheres to courtside COVID protocols such as bringing sanitizers to use after touching surfaces, arriving and waiting wearing a mask, remaining six-feet from others, and even returning a ball by hitting it with a paddle or rolling it without touching it.

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