Having Parkinson’s is just one aspect of a person’s life story. We want to share more stories of the varied lives of people currently living with Parkinson’s.
Marina Haralambous is passionate about Pickleball
One day, about seven years ago, Marina Haralambous was on her way to watch her grandson at soccer and she had a fall.
“I fell badly, and my foot gave me a lot of trouble after that,” she explained. “I could not walk properly. Because my father and my two brothers all had Parkinson’s, I was pretty sure that I had developed it too. I could see myself in them. Only my younger sister, Arti, has not been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.”
Arti was on a long trip overseas while Marina was first struggling with her foot and walking issues after diagnosis.
“I needed a walking stick and at times used a walking frame,” Marina recalls. “When my sister returned from her trip, she took one look at me and said, ‘you’ve got to learn to walk again.’ I said that if she would walk every day with me, I’d do my best.
“At first, I could only walk 500 metres but within a month or two we were doing five kilometres. One day when my sister and I were out walking, we went past a site where a new basketball court was being put in.
“My sister went to the local council and requested that they also mark in two pickleball courts. I learned that pickleball is played with a paddle across a net, similar to tennis, but with a hollow plastic ball. It was developed in America and can be played indoors or outdoors.
“At first it was mainly popular with retired people, but now the average age of players is around 40.”
Marina credits pickleball for getting her moving again. She recalls when she started playing, she could barely lift her feet (she felt as if her feet were embedded in concrete). She persisted and now flits around the court like a bird. Marina plays four to six times a week when she can.
“Pickleball has done absolute wonders for me,” says Marina, who lives in Sydney.
“After a session of pickleball, my muscles loosen up and I feel like a different person. My balance has improved tremendously.”
“I used to do PD Warrior classes until pickleball took over my life. Three of us started a pickleball group, and now there are 275 members.
“It’s such fun; you can have a long rally and then all burst out laughing. It’s companionable, and there are very nice people playing. Now I know so many people and have many friends.”
Marina has observed that playing pickleball helps you keep mobile and active and improves hand-eye coordination. Together, medication and pickleball slow the progression of Parkinson’s.
Marina’s pickleball skills don’t just finish in having helped to establish a big group of players. To her neurologist’s surprise, Marina continues to improve physically. On one of her routine visits to her neurologist he remarked: “Do you know that you have a degenerative disease? Every time I see you, you look better than the time before.”
The proof is that in the past two years she has participated in three tournaments. Marina won a bronze medal in the 2022 NSW State Pickleball Championship in her age group. She won a silver medal in the 2023 NSW Pickleball Championship and in September won up a bronze medal in the National Championships!
“The last time I visited my neurologist I wore my medals around my neck to show them to him,” says Marina. “He asked me what I was wearing around my neck and I explained that I had won them in State tournaments. He was taken aback and remarked ‘do you mean that you competed and won against able-bodied players, not just people with Parkinson’s?’
“I had never won medals in my entire life; now, in my 70s, I’ve won four of them,” she explains.
“When I started playing, I found it hard to buy a pickleball paddle. A year later I started a business manufacturing, importing and selling pickleball equipment. My son and husband work with me in the business. Our mission in life is to make as many people as possible aware of the benefits of playing pickleball.”