Someone said “pickle” and Alex Hamner’s response was predictable.
“Hey, I like pickles,” she said.
Um, not the one you plop on your sandwich. This one is about a sport that Hamner has nailed since embracing it.
Hamner, of Carlsbad, has been selected to the Pickleball Hall of Fame. But when the selection committee reached out, she nearly didn’t answer because her cellphone revealed an unfamiliar number.
“Is this one of those prank calls?” she said. “Should I block it?”
Instead, the conversation wasn’t about a pitch for a product. It revolved around her considerable accomplishments that piqued the hall’s interest and congratulating her for being part of the 2020 class.
“It’s such an honor,” Hamner said. “To actually be inducted is pretty special.”
That’s true of Hamner’s pickleball skills, a sport she embraced about 11 years ago. After playing tennis and field hockey at Oceanside High and lacrosse at Long Beach State, Hamner grabbed a paddle, and since has never appeared to be swimming upstream.
“It’s just so much fun and the camaraderie among the players, well, it makes you want more,” Hamner, 57, said. “Plus, it’s a great form of exercise, although it doesn’t look like the players are getting exercise. If you play for 20-30 minutes you wonder, ‘Why am I sweating so much?’ ”
Those really perspiring are her rivals on the net’s other side. Facing Hamner’s all-court game and give-no-quarter attitude isn’t something opponents relish with their pickleball.
“She is, of course, a great player,” said Jennifer Lucore, Hamner’s Hall of Fame partner from Oceanside and the one who introduced her to pickleball after they spent years playing tennis at Oceanside’s El Camino Country Club.
Hamner’s resume is smashing and it illustrates her mettle. She’s won 21 gold medals at the USAPA Nationals, U.S. Open Pickleball championships and the Tournament of Champions.
Add all that up and it’s clear why this accountant by trade is keen with more than numbers.
“My tennis background does help but there are a lot of differences in pickleball,” Hamner said. “It doesn’t seem like it at first, but the nuances start kicking in and it’s almost a lot like chess. You are always looking to create an opening to get the ball between your opponents or around them.”
There’s no avoiding recognizing the surge of popularity pickleball is enjoying. By being played on smaller courts, in comparison to tennis, competitors don’t have to cover as much ground.
To those with aching joints and ligaments, it’s been a revelation.
“You hear that from a lot of aging athletes who have sore shoulders and knees, which means tennis doesn’t work out as well,” Hamner said. “Pickleball is a sport you can play for a lot longer. You’d be surprised how many 80- and 90-year-old players are tearing up in pickleball and it’s great to see.”
Same goes for Hamner, who’s also among pickleball’s most active ambassadors, getting her due.
After being passed over last year as a finalist, Hamner deserves her spot in the PIckleball Hall of Fame.
No matter how you slice it.