Inspire – Janet Reilly: Making fitness fun

By Alyssa Dearborn

I do elder companion care and I think staying in shape is always important–mentally and physically–so I can be the best at what I do.” Janet Reilly said when asked about how having an active, healthy lifestyle affects her everyday life.

Janet’s job has days that are filled with activity and others that are very quiet, but the physical activity that she does in her free time helps her have the energy to help the individuals that rely on her. Being an avid pickleball player keeps her active and provides her with energy to thrive in her everyday life. But playing pickleball and serving as a USA Pickleball Association Ambassador provides her with fulfilling personal benefits as well. 

It’s also nice that I also have an outlet to spend time with friends, to maybe burn off a little bit of stress and to come back each day refreshed for what I do.” she added. 

Pickleball is one of the country’s fastest growing sports and Central New York has more than 1,000 players. Like other sports, it can be a very effective workout. But pickleball has become more known for its inclusivity and its welcoming nature.

I was a member of the North West YMCA and I was running on their second level track when I heard the popping of the pickleball on the paddles down below.” Janet said when asked how she first got into playing the sport, “So I ran around a couple times and decided, well, I’m just going to go down and ask about it. So I walked down and there were some people who were waiting. And I said, ‘Hey, can you tell me what this is all about?’ And they put a paddle in my hand and they said, ‘Jump in! We’ll teach you as we go.’ And it was absolutely love at first sight.”

So it’s just something that I’ve stayed with.” she continued, “I’ve also become a USA Pickleball Association Ambassador. That was something that happened when the previous ambassador left town and needed someone to take the reins…So I accepted the responsibility. I met even more people through that experience.”   

Pickleball has since become an important part of her active lifestyle. Like other players of the sport, Janet has found that playing pickleball has improved her physical health as well as her mental health. 

At the time I found it, my kids were aging to the point where they were independent. They had their cars, they had their licenses, and so I had this new-found freedom.” she said about how her involvement has affected her life, “I’ve always been active but wasn’t particularly proficient in any sport other than golf. Pickleball is a wonderful way to stay in shape. It’s still challenging mentally, challenging physically. But not so much that you don’t feel like you can do it on any given day. It’s an easy game to play, but still challenging enough to get your heartrate up.” 

But the hallmark of the sport is its sociability. As Janet pointed out, it’s the only she knows of where you compliment your opponent for making a good shot. When asked what she thinks draws people to pickleball the most, she said,

I think it’s the social aspect of it. I think how easy it is to learn and play. However, it’s easy to learn, harder to master. So it’s constantly challenging. There’s so many different levels of play that you are constantly striving to do better.”

There aren’t really teams per say.” Janet added, “Pickleball is just kind of a drop-in sport. You don’t need a partner, you don’t even need to know anyone. It’s a game where you just kind of stop in at a park or perhaps when the Y is offering it. Generally, pickleball is a welcoming sport.”

It is this sense of welcoming and community that keeps players coming back to play. It is a game that can be fun and beneficial to athletes of all ages and abilities, which is a feature that Janet thinks is important.

I think the beauty of pickleball is, also, that any age can play.” she explained, “It is a sport that you can play into your senior years. I know that they’re teaching it in P.E. classes, and all the way up through into your senior years…It’s just a welcoming sport and one that you don’t have to be terribly athletic to be able to play, at least in the beginning. So it’s kind of an open door sport.”

If you are interested in learning how to play pickleball or finding ways to participate in local meet-ups, Janett encourages you to visit . The website has a spreadsheet showing the different places and times for each meet-up. There are also resources for those who want to learn how to play.