From Navy Corpsman to Pickleball Ambassador: Gabe George's Journey with MACS and Pickleball

Kevin Brown
January 8, 2024

Gabe George is the Director of Pickleball at Military Adaptive Court Sports (MACS). His unwavering passion for playing and instructing pickleball knows no geographical boundaries, as he firmly believes, "If there’s a desire in the heart of veterans, we’ll make it there.”




Gabe’s Quest to Find A New Purpose


Gabe George, a retired Navy corpsman, faced a life-altering motorcycle accident resulting in the paralysis of his right arm, which later needed amputation. In his quest to discover a new sense of purpose, Gabe's journey led him to the world of adaptive sports. It was through this path that he became acquainted with MACS, an organization that would become instrumental in developing his passion for pickleball. Gabe not only found fulfillment in playing the sport but also discovered his talent and love for teaching others the game.


Humbling Pickleball Beginnings


Immediately, Gabe fell in love with pickleball. He enjoyed how he could play several games and not feel beat up afterward. He got his start playing at a local church where he lives in Jacksonville, Florida. His opponents consisted of individuals in their seventies and eighties. Recalling his initial experience, Gabe humorously remarked, "I had an eighty-four-year-old man stand in one spot and laugh while he whooped my butt and ran me around the whole court."


Spreading the Pickleball Passion Through MACS


Military Adaptive Court Sports is a phenomenal organization dedicated to teaching and promoting adaptive sports to disabled armed service members and veterans. Currently, their programs include pickleball, racquetball, and badminton, with plans to introduce padel tennis soon. All MACS instructors are certified and specially trained to work with individuals with disabilities.


I’ve had the honor of traveling all over the country teaching. I've taught hundreds and hundreds of veterans, able-bodied, and non-able-bodied people. It's my love. And when I'm not underwater diving or something, with my dog, or my daughter, I'm on the court somewhere.


Pickleball and DUPR: Ageless, Genderless, and for All Abilities


Pickleball aligns seamlessly with MACS due to its inclusivity.


Everybody can play. You don't have to be a pro. I've taught kids, older folks, people who can barely walk, knee replacements, and people with visual impairments who can hear the different sounds and different balls. It’s very adaptive.


The DUPR rating system is beneficial in that it matches players up evenly based on skill level regardless of age, mobility, gender, and any other factors.

It’s very helpful. Once you play a while you can understand how the rating changes. And I love the growth of how the rating system has changed. It’s always updating, it’s really great for what we’ve got going on right now. It’s helped get a judge of who you’re playing against. It’s not just about your age and your mobility, skill level is skill level. If you’re a master of your craft, it shouldn’t matter your age.


Making Their Way to Waterfall Nationals


MACS and their director, Gabe, are making their way to the 2023 DUPR Waterfall Nationals in Rockwall, Texas, October 12-15. MACS will have a sports clinic each morning from 10 a.m. to noon.


Gabe enjoys the DUPR Waterfall format of four matches in four hours which means four times the fun.


I love it because you get to play more. You get to mix with multiple different types of pickleball players and their different styles. I like what they’re doing with it, and I can see it being incorporated in a lot of other tournaments and events too.


He also mentioned the struggle that many of us have experienced with other tournament styles:

You’re sitting there and you've been waiting for hours and hours to play and just get to play that one game and then it's done. So, yeah, I think anytime it comes to a tournament when you’re guaranteed to get to play, that's going to light you up and make you want to be there more.

-  -

If you're interested in learning more or participating in MACS, visit: Military Adaptive Court Sports. In the words of Gabe, "If there's a desire in the heart of veterans, we'll make it there."


To watch the full interview on YouTube, click here.

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April 10, 2024

The Power of Sibling Partnerships in Pickleball

On April 3rd, at the Major League Pickleball Premier Level Draft, the New York Hustlers selected Jackie Kawamoto with the 16th pick of the 2024 draft.

Shortly after, the Los Angeles Mad Dogs used the 26th pick to select Jackie’s twin sister, Jade Kawamoto.

The final rosters for the MLP Premier teams are comprised of the 48 most in-demand players in professional pickleball. Six of those coveted spots went to three pairs of siblings: the Kawamoto sisters, Ben and Collin Johns, and Jorja and JW Johnson.

Whether as practice partners, doubles teammates, or competitors, sibling teams have a unique chemistry that is difficult to replicate. Their shared history, communication skills, trust, competitive edge, and motivation all contribute to their success on the court.

For Jackie and Jade, the sibling advantage has helped them rise rapidly through the ranks of professional pickleball.

“Just having that person to always practice with was definitely an advantage for us,” says Jackie. “I'm a righty and Jade is a lefty, and we move together very well. I think that's our biggest strength. I know where I need to be when she gets pulled wide, and vice versa. I know all of her shots. We just know each other's game so well.”


“We've practiced with each other our whole lives, so it comes naturally,” adds Jade.

Like many professional pickleball players, the Kawamoto sisters have a background in competitive tennis, playing throughout their childhood and into college. 

Their journey with pickleball began in 2019.

“At first it was just fun, something to do with the family,” says Jade. 


“It didn't take long for all of us to get hooked and pretty much play nonstop,” adds Jackie.

They started competing in 2021, and in less than 3 years, they’ve become top rated pros. The Dink recently rated Jackie and Jade the number five women’s doubles team in the world for 2024, and their 5.9+ DUPR ratings demonstrate how far they’ve progressed in their short time since finding the sport.

“Chemistry is such an important part of this game because of the nature of the game and how quickly it goes,” Jackie explains.

Jade adds that the emotional support is just as important as the training.

“When you grow up with each other, and you're the same age and have gone through similar experiences… I know it's a cliche or whatever, but it does help you on the court to have someone that knows your emotions and knows how to bring you up when you're down,” she says.


This season, that bond faces a new challenge. Where the Kawamoto sisters played together for the ATX Pickleballers in 2023, this year they’ll meet as rivals.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that their new teams represent the sister-cities of New York and Los Angeles, two American metropolises that share similarities and a healthy rivalry.

For Jade and Jackie, meeting head-to-head is an opportunity to keep improving their game.

“We were pretty competitive with each other when we were younger,” Jackie recalls. “It always pushed us to be a little bit better.”

“We still like to be competitive with each other,” Jade says, “but mostly in a fun-spirited way, not like ‘I have to be better than you at this’. It helps us get better if we're trying to have that competitive mindset, but also keeps it fun.”

Community
MLP
March 14, 2024

‘A Real Eye-Opener' - Reflecting On Our Trip To The Indian Open

David McCune says the India pickleball market is ‘poised to go boom’ and that the nation’s technically adept players pose a real threat to the USA’s hegemony in the sport.

Johnnie Pickles, DUPR Crew

DUPR Executive Director David McCune was "blown away" by the level of play and scale of pickleball participation on a recent overseas activation at the Indian Open in the vast, vibrant city of Mumbai.

 

February's Indian Open, organized by Global Sports, boasted a $150,000 prize purse, making it the most lucrative pickleball tournament ever played outside North America. 

 

David's observations highlight that players from sub-continental and Southeast Asian regions bring exciting new skill sets to the court that are set to provide a stern challenge to the USA's hegemony in the sport. What was even starker is that when a nation of 1.4 billion people gets a taste for a new sport, it can create high volumes of participation quickly!

 

"The region is poised to go 'boom!'" smiled David after meeting with partners, athletes, sponsors, club owners, local dignitaries and celebrities in Mumbai to raise awareness of the benefits of DUPR (or "humanizing the algorithm," as he neatly calls it).

 

David added: "The best question about the level of play in India is not to ask how far they are behind the States, but how far along they are. Let me tell you, these guys are doing very well indeed!

 

The tournament was a real eye-opener for some of the US pros. When they got into those rapid hand battles, it wasn't a series of blocks and speedups — the Indian athletes were actually redirecting their attacks with spin on the ball. These guys are used to badminton where a shuttlecock reaches speeds of nearly 500 km/h, so pickleball is virtually in slow motion for them."

 

David was particularly taken by the current Indian No. 1 Harsh Mehta: "Until he hits it, you just don't know whether he's going to roll it, cut it or flick it. I watched him break the ankles of one of our top 10 pros numerous times! This guy is incredible."

Dave McCune, Sathwika Sama, and Ben Hildreth

 

Brian Omwando was another competitor in the Indian Open draw. An ex-tennis player turned pickleball fanatic, he opened Nairobi Pickleball Club last May and has helped embed DUPR as the go-to system in tournaments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Brian led a squad of five players to Mumbai (it was his first-ever plane flight).

 

"It was a totally new experience for us - seeing how players warm up, the different drills they do, and tactics like stacking, which we are now including in our practice sessions. The standard was a different level but we were amazed how well we played against players who have been playing for many more years than us."

 

British player Louis Laville reached the round of 16 in the men's singles where he fell to India’s Rohit Patil. He was also bowled over by the host nation's rising stature in the sport.

 

“Pickleball in India is absolutely exploding," he said. "They have coaching programs, investment, sponsorships, and financial backers.

 

“What the tournament showed us is that the UK and Europe need to get on with developing pickleball facilities and getting more people playing very quickly, because the rest of the world is starting to motor ahead in terms of numbers and level of players and investment into the sport. I am very excited to watch the top Indian players take on some of the top pros at April’s US Open!"

Written By: Mike Dale

Community
Events
March 8, 2024

Empowering Women on the Pickleball Court: The Importance of Women's Only Spaces

International Women's Day marks a global celebration of women's accomplishments and resilience. In the realm of pickleball, clubs like Pickle Pop and Gold Coast Pickleball's women's only group exemplify this spirit by providing platforms for women to excel, compete, and support one another.

Pickle Pop, Santa Monica

The 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California is famous for its shops, dining, and proximity to the beach and the Santa Monica pier. However, the area was hard hit by the effects of the pandemic and is still recovering, creating the perfect opportunity to bring pickleball to some of LA’s most in demand real estate.

Steph McCaffrey, a former professional soccer player with an MBA from Wharton, and Erin Robertson, a Project Runway winner with a background in design and fashion, teamed up to cofound Pickle Pop right in the heart of the promenade. This pickleball venue stands out not only for its distinctive pink courts but also for its commitment to fostering an inclusive and empowering environment, particularly for women.

Robertson says, “a lot of times in sports, everything is super masculine, even for women's sports. It's not like I wanted to make it (Pickle Pop) feminine and fluffy, but I definitely wanted to soften the energy of it, so it felt warm and welcoming, but also fun, bright, energetic and like you would want to move your body.”

The decision to introduce a women's only open play at Pickle Pop was fueled by their general manager Jane Hollon's observation of the need for a space where women could enjoy the game and, as Hollon puts it, “avoid the male players who maybe aren't as experienced and are just like bang, bang, bang.”

What began as a one morning event has now blossomed into “one of our most popular programs,” says Hollon, expanding to three days a week. The program’s rapid growth highlights the demand for providing spaces tailored to the unique preferences and needs of women in the pickleball community.

"If you don't have a DUPR, do you even play pickleball?" says Hollon. Pickle Pop recognizes the importance of DUPR’s rating system and recently organized a fun event to help players earn their rating.

Gold Coast Pickleball, Queensland, Australia

Six thousand miles across the ocean, nestled in Carumbin Beach in Queensland, Australia, Gold Coast Pickleball’s facilities cater to local players of all types and skill levels.

Suzanne Mackenzie decided to team up with two friends to start a women's only pickleball group at the facility after feeling targeted on the court.

“I’d be on the court with my husband, who has bad knees and isn’t very mobile, and these young guys would absolutely be targeting me. I’d say ‘ease up, buddy.’ It was intimidating, terrifying, not enjoyable.”

Determined to build confidence among female players, Mackenzie envisioned a community grounded in friendship, camaraderie, and teamwork.

The success of Gold Coast Pickleball's initiative is evident in its growth from 30 participants to over 90 women of various ages and skill levels. Utilizing DUPR has proven effective in maintaining a level playing field, ensuring that everyone feels welcome and has an opportunity to participate.

As Sue Bailey, a member of the group says, “the women's only group opened up an opportunity for us (women) to play competitively. You play socially and win some games or lose some games. It doesn't really matter. But when you're playing with a team, it adds that extra incentive to work harder, get better, and to support the team.”

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's raise a paddle to Suzanne, Steph, Erin, Jane, and all the women who are leading the game on and off the court. They're breaking barriers, building communities, and showing the world what women can do when they come together.

Written By: Alana Jackler

Community