Pickleball Serves Up Support for Wounded Veterans
Mark Waldorf gets choked up talking about his son Collin, who is proudly serving in the U.S. Army and has done so for nine years.
Knowing first-hand the sacrifices servicemen and women make, Mark decided to take action to help improve the lives of active-duty service members and veterans. He started a pickleball and racquetball tournament to benefit Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP).
Mark and a group of friends organize the WWP Pickleball & Racquetball Shootouts in Coppell, Texas. Together, they have raised more than $50,000 over the past nine years. They have shined a spotlight on the ongoing needs of military service members and their families, all while players turn up the heat in the pickleball kitchen.
“There are many servicemen and women who need help,” said Mark. “We’re here because we’re not afraid to take that first step to help them – and it’s not only the soldier who’s missing an arm or a leg. It’s not just the visible injuries.”
In 2023, Mark, alongside volunteers and friends, hosted 20 racquetball players and more than 200 pickleball players at the Wagon Wheel Tennis and Pickleball Courts in Coppell, just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
“I’m fairly new to the game,” said participant Leon Atencio. “What inspired me to come out is our veterans. I travel overseas as a contractor, and I know that we’ve got to support our troops going there and coming back.
“It’s amazing to be able to play a fun sport, support our veterans, and be immersed in the community.”
The community support was moving to warrior Nick Morrison, who spoke at the event about his own experiences while serving in the U.S. Marines.
“Wounded Warrior Project is funded solely by donors,” Nick said. “So, to come here and see all these people wanting to help service members is surreal to me. It’s very humbling to be here and see the civilian population grateful, supportive, and behind us.”
“I’m speaking on behalf of Wounded Warrior Project to raise awareness about what my brothers and sisters in arms go through coming home. At this point in time, as I go through my healing process, I know that I’m not alone – there are others with similar experiences, and you can reach out and ask for help.”
From 0-0-2 to Thousands of Reasons to Support Veterans
Pickleball’s popularity has made it the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. According to the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), 48.3 million adult Americans (19% of the population) have played pickleball at least once in the past year. The latest numbers show that the average age of pickleball players is 35 years old, considerably younger than previously thought. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is among the top 10 pickleball markets in the country.
As is the case in other communities, Mark said the COVID-19 pandemic forced people out of indoor racquetball clubs and outside to play pickleball – helping increase participants who are interested in pickleball and want to support a good cause while exercising and having fun.
“We first started with 20 people, and to see where we are today with 200 players is amazing,” Mark said. “But it’s not enough. We want to continue to grow the event, expanding to a multiday event, and possibly attracting pro players.”
Air Force veteran Melissa McMahon found pickleball through WWP physical health and wellness events. She said there are two things about pickleball that keep her playing. “It is fun; that is the first rule; you have got to have fun,” Melissa said. “And some of the friendliest people I have ever met are on the pickleball court.”
Through playing pickleball, Melissa stays active and also connects with other veterans. “I have some good friends now, almost like adopted uncles, and I just love them,” Melissa said. “It became a safe place to play because they also understood. Even though it was a different generation, they also understood what it was like to have served, and the aftereffects, too.”
Mark found a receptive audience among friends and community members in Texas who love to have fun playing pickleball and are also serious about helping veterans. He also found supportive WWP staff to help organize the fundraiser event.
“If you’re interested in supporting Wounded Warrior Project, they’re 100% behind you to help walk you through the process,” Mark said. “There are great tools on the website and specific steps you can take.
“Everybody loves the military, and there are not too many organizations that are better than Wounded Warrior Project for supporting the military.”
Americans from all walks of life do their part to support injured veterans each year. To see how supporters fuel WWP’s programs and services that connect, serve, and empower wounded warriors, or to find out how you can help, visit https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/give-back.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.