When Off-time Meets Ping Pong
About a year ago, Maureen McCormick and Trent McLean started Ping Pong for Good in Los Angeles. They invited me to join their classes last year as they worked on developing the program. I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted to do something different for exercise as we were starting to come out of the pandemic.
I have fond memories of playing ping pong in my parents basement as a kid. If the weather was bad, we were downstairs playing ping pong. I don’t think I had played more than once or twice since I went off to college in the 70’s. It seems that the game fell out of favor for a long time. But there has been a recent resurgence and people are playing everywhere. Maybe it is because of the rise of pickleball. As we Baby Boomers are getting older and finding it harder to run on a tennis court, we are embracing paddle games that are not quite as hard on our knees and feet. And it seems to be good for those of us with Parkinson’s.
I remember being fairly good at the game, but when I started playing again, it really took some time to get back into it. We do a lot of warm up exercises before we even start to play, many of them specifically designed to improve neuroplasticy in the brain. Things like counting how many times you hit the ball back and forth. Oh that it would be so easy. Instead, we count by 2’s, 3’s or whatever number the coaches decide we should use. Or name animals alphabetically as you hit the ball. We laugh a lot as we fail over and over again. But eventually many of us get the rhythm going and we start to feel like we are ready to win a tournament.
This week, because I had been traveling over the weekend, my medication times were a bit off. So on Monday I went to class at 5:30 pm and forgot to take my Carbidopa/Levadopa before I left home. One of the warm up exercises is to hold the paddle flat while balancing a ping pong ball on top of it. You want to keep the ball in the center of the paddle as long as possible. This is hard enough for people without tremors, but I usually do ok with it. So I placed my ball on the paddle and everything was fine for a few seconds. Then my hand went wild! The ball started to spin in the opposite direction from my hand movements. And it spun fast. I had never seen anything like it before. Several of the instructors tried to do it and could not. Apparently the frequency of the hand tremor caused the spinning. The amazing thing is that I was able to keep it going for about 30 seconds until I dropped the ball. And then I was able to repeat it with the same results several times. Check out the video.
Next time you want to impress your friends, take a ping pong paddle and ball and show them how you can make the ball spin. Of course you won’t tell them that your tremor is what actually causes it. Once you have wowed them with your newfound skills, dare them to do the same thing. They probably cannot do it, so be kind. After all, they don’t have your PD superpowers.
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