When Raymond Carrion was six months old, doctors told his family that he would not be able to walk.
Now 15 years old, Carrion just won gold in a recent pickleball tournament.
The Hemet, California native was born with cerebral palsy, with limited use of the left side of his body. He fell in love with pickleball after picking up a paddle two years ago when his mother, Monica Lopez, recommended he try it out.
“He's completely changed,” Lopez said. “He's started talking to everyone and making jokes, and he feels very secure around people. I can tell he's really happy with pickleball because it’s helped him so much – not just his body, but with his mentality.”
Carrion, a longtime basketball fan, was initially skeptical of the sport and whether he would be motivated to play, but decided to give it a try. His skills improved rapidly.
“I never thought I would like pickleball and I was scared at first because of my physical disability, but I decided to try it and I liked it a lot,” Carrion said. “I have more advantages when it comes to pickleball compared to basketball. There are a lot of strategies and ways to be competitive in pickleball. Once I realized that, I started playing more.”
After getting started in the sport, Carrion met Melinda Terrian, a USA Pickleball ambassador who introduced him to pickleball players in their area, many of whom are 30 or 40 years his senior and have been playing for 15 years or more.
Carrion has been steadily improving by practicing with this group of experienced players, including Suzy Bozeman, an avid pickleball fan with a court at her home that Carrion frequently trains at. Carrion said Bozeman and the group as a whole have welcomed him with open arms.
“All the people he's playing with are much older, but they make him feel so comfortable. They’re now like his family,” Lopez said. “He’s been so happy, even without me there. I’ll drop him off and he'll be playing there for hours.”
Carrion, currently a freshman at Tahquitz High School, has begun playing more competitively in recent months with encouragement from Terrian. He recently won gold and bronze medals in doubles competition in the last two tournaments that he has played in.
“If it's possible, I'd like to try and become a professional pickleball player and compete in big tournaments someday. I really want to motivate other kids to play the game as well,” Carrion said. “I was on social media one day and saw famous NBA players buying pickleball teams and getting involved. I was in shock – it made me really excited to keep playing.”
Carrion is committed to working on his game, watching highlights on YouTube frequently and practicing with Terrian and his local group a few times a week.
“[Raymond]’s been able to make the necessary adjustments to serve and hit the ball very well – he’s excelled at playing the game and will play anytime he gets a chance,” Terrian said. “He’s gained so much confidence through playing pickleball. You can’t really appreciate how incredible this young man is until you see him play.”
Carrion, who struggled with the physicality and movement demanded in basketball, has now found a sport in which he thrives. Despite the challenges he has overcome, the opportunity to excel in a sport is now no longer out of reach.
“With basketball, I noticed that [Raymond] used to get upset or frustrated, trying so hard and would sometimes injure himself accidentally. When he's into something, he gives 100 percent,” Lopez said. “Pickleball is perfect for [Raymond] and other individuals with a physical impairment or disability. He’s not limited in the sport even with his cerebral palsy, and this sport has made him so happy.”
For Carrion and his family, it has made all the difference.
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