How big is your racket?

My ultimate goal is to reverse the effects of Parkinson’s and help other people conquer it too

Trent MacLean, Ping Pong for Good

As an avid tennis player all my life, some of the first signs of Parkinson’s, looking back, occurred on the tennis court long before my diagnosis. I was having trouble with my grip on the racket. I would swing and the racket would slip in my hand for no apparent reason. I jokingly told my tennis buds that I needed to have the racket strapped into my hand. There was no such solution so I tried a new grip on my racket, then golf gloves, thinking that would help. Of course it didn’t. I wasn’t about to give up tennis and thankfully, my friends would not let me give it up.

However, the Pandemic many have been the final blow to my game. I finally started playing again a few weeks ago and the jury is still out on this. Everything seems to be off in my game. My serve has lost any power it did have, moving back and forth on the court brings breathlessness, and forget about those overhead shots. Looking up can challenge my balance. So what is a girl to do????

Some smaller options for people with Parkinson’s

There are a couple of other options, both using a smaller racket and smaller court. Pickleball and Ping Pong.

I have not yet played Pickleball, but it is now the rage at all of the tennis facilities here in Southern California. The court is smaller, meaning you don’t have to run as much. That’s good for those of us who can’t run like we used to on the tennis court. It also means less wear and tear on our joints. A light weight plastic whiffle ball is used instead of a tennis ball. A paddle is used instead of a tennis racket. It is much smaller and lighter and less stressful on the tendons and muscles in your arms. Finally, the serve is underhand, which is much easier than the overhead serve in tennis.

Now for the smallest racket. Ping Pong. Table Tennis. Whiff-whaff. When you think of Ping Pong, you probably think about Japanese men playing at the Olympics. But the sport is played everywhere. The equipment is not expensive. You don’t need much space for it and it can easily be played at home. It is a fast paced game that can really help your eye-hand coordination. When I was growing up, we had a ping pong table in our basement where we had many hours of fun playing with our friends.

A new initiative

At the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto two years ago, there was a room set up with ping pong tables that we could use. Nenad Bach, the founder of Ping Pong Parkinson arranged to have the room available for anyone who wanted to play. I was able to get into a couple of games and had a lot of fun. Bach also presented a poster in the Poster Display at the WPC. According to Junko Saito from the local organizing committee: “His story is sensational. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago and could not sing or play his guitar any longer; his career as a musician was at an end. He began to play table tennis on the advice of a friend, at first once a week, then twice a week and later three times a week. After only six months he could play the guitar again; it was a miracle. A special room with three tables was prepared at the Congress. Mr. Bach visited and enjoyed playing table tennis with participants from all over the world. He played me too. I lost!”

Nenad Bach’s Ping Pong Parkinson was only one of the things that inspired Maureen McComsey and Trent MacLean to start Ping Pong for Good in Southern California. I met with the two of them last week to learn about their program. Trent was diagnosed 11 years ago. Several years after being diagnosed, Trent discovered the benefits of ping pong for Parkinson’s by playing with a friend, “Playing ping pong has become so challenging and aerobic for me. It quickly helped increase my strength and hand-eye coordination. It still helps with weakness on the right.”

Maureen’s dear friend, 92-year old ping pong super star Eileen Greene, Trent’s overall approach to PD which includes an aggressive exercise program & Ping Pong, and the data they found about the benefits are what inspired them to start PPG. 

They have found that it is the perfect brain game. It has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, increased agility and balance, and can slow the cognitive decline. And it is fun.

The goals of PPG are to get more people playing, develop protocols for ping pong therapy, leading to the adoption of ping pong for people with brain disease and research into the benefits of ping pong therapy. You can learn more about their program on their website.

I also learned that you do not have to have a ping pong table to play. There are portable nets that can be set up on your own tables, robots that feed you the balls and even a virtual reality game using an Oculus Quest 2 by Facebook VR headset that looks like a lot of fun. So there are a lot of options out there for us to try. Now we just have to Do It!