Gabe George Is Spreading The Pickleball Gospel To Armed Service Members And Veterans

By Bob Reinert
Red Line Editorial

If you want evidence of Gabe George’s commitment to spreading the word about pickleball, look no further than his 2017 Prius Hatchback.

“My car is five years old, and I have 345,000 miles on that car,” George said. “I go everywhere. I’m going to show up, whatever it takes.”

The 37-year-old George, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, does all that travel as the Director of Pickleball for Military Adaptive Court Sports, or MACS, a nonprofit organization that provides pickleball, racquetball and badminton clinics for veterans and active-duty service members. In the past year alone, George folded his 6-foot-7-inch frame into that Prius, drove across the country, and hosted more than 150 clinics himself.

“We’re national,” he said. “We cover everything.”

George discovered pickleball a number of years ago at a VA Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego. Medically retired as a U.S. Navy corpsman, he had been seriously injured in an April 2008 motorcycle accident. He was in a coma for three weeks, had a traumatic brain injury, spinal damage and a paralyzed right arm that was ultimately amputated.

“I just got back from a deployment, and I was leaving Bible study that night,” George recalled. “At that time of my life, when I wasn’t at work or at church, I was on my motorcycle. That’s all I did at the time was ride. That was my passion.”

In addition to pickleball, George has done other adaptive sports. He was recently featured in the Netflix series “Heart of Invictus,” which highlighted his journey to the 2020 Invictus Games in archery, swimming and rowing. People and CBS Mornings both featured his story, too. Lately, though, he keeps coming back to pickleball.

“I love the sport. I love promoting this sport,” George said of pickleball. “It’s good for everybody. It’s the most social sport I've ever played.

“I can get almost anybody playing pickleball, and we have a great time and it’s very inexpensive. In 15 minutes, I’ll have them playing this sport, and loving it. People love it.”

George was immediately hooked by pickleball at that VA sports clinic, where he had intended to focus on archery.

“Nobody knew what pickleball was,” he said. “It so happened the pickleball clinic was right next to the archery clinic.

“Everyone was just so friendly. They put the paddle in my hand. They showed me how to do it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is fun.’ I was really excited. They ended up giving me that paddle.”

George took the paddle home to Jacksonville and found an indoor court at a church. He said he was the youngest person playing there for two years.

“Everybody there was 60 and older,” George said. “They were so welcoming. They encouraged me to play, and I had the time of my life. I couldn’t stop playing. I kept talking to people about it. This was way before pickleball was the cool thing to do.

“I found out that after playing for hours and hours, I was still having fun. Whether I played and won or played and lost, I still had an amazing time.”

No matter where he goes, George carries his pickleball equipment with him. Since obtaining his coaching certification three and a half years ago, however, the opportunities have become more limited.

“I’m coaching so much that it extremely impacts my play,” he said. “I realized that out over the last couple of years. I have clinics everywhere. I never get to play.”

At his clinics, George talks about the sweet sound of the paddle meeting the pickleball.

“I want you to fall in love with that sound,” George tells attendees.

Though young, George expressed an interest in bringing pickleball with him into his retirement years.

“I have that experience of watching my elders playing it still in their 80s and 90s,” he said. “I tell people about my first time playing, when I had my butt handed to me by an 84-year-old man.”

George has decades to go before he becomes that octogenarian. Until then, he’ll continue to preach the pickleball gospel.

“I love to see this sport grow,” George said. “I love to be a part of the growth of it, too. Everywhere I go, as I continue to live, it’s something I can take with me, I can share with people.

“No one I will ever meet will have more fun playing pickleball than me. That’s my No. 1 rule. No one can have more fun than me.”

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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