Gallwas enjoys first year in the pros
Hinsdale tennis player thrilled with switch to pickleball and first year on NPL tour
Last updated 9/20/2023 at 11:57pm | View PDF
Hinsdale's Jennifer Gallwas, an accomplished athlete who earned a scholarship to DePaul University, played competitive tennis until two years ago.
So how did she end up as a member of the Naples JBB United team, traveling around the country to compete - on pickleball courts?
"I was on a girls trip to Cabo. I kind of thought, 'It looks easy, and I'm a tennis player,' " she said.
She agreed to give it a try. After she and her friend won a little tournament, there was no turning back.
"That spring break I went to Naples and I played every day," she added. "I was like, 'This is it!' I really liked it."
She started playing in pickleball tournaments in 2021.
"I felt like I was getting worse at tennis, better at pickleball," she said.
Once she turned 50 this year, she was able to turn pro. She was invited to a combine in Naples in March, where she was drafted by the JBB United team in Naples. She played her first National Pickleball League match in Dallas in early June and just returned Monday from the fifth match of the season in San Antonio, where her team came in fourth. The season's final competition is Oct. 13-15 in Glendale, Ariz.
Competing in the league has exceeded her expectations.
"I absolutely love the league," she said. "Everything is incredibly well-run. It's amazing 50-over (competition) is that well supported."
Gallwas also competed in the Association of Pickleball Players or APP Chicago Open Aug. 30-Sept. 3 and plans to be at the U.S. Indoor Championships at the end of November in Rosemont.
The pickleball she plays looks different than what might be seen on the neighborhood court.
"It's not that slow game anymore. It's really changed," she said.
With the help of her coaches and teammates, her game has really improved, Gallwas said.
"I'm playing the game more correctly. Basically, initially I tried to play tennis on a pickleball court, hitting everything hard, trying to be super aggressive. Now I really understand the strategy, shot selection, playing smarter, not harder."
She has especially appreciated the input from JBB United coach and Pickleball Hall of Famer Jennifer Lucore.
"To be able to be on a team with her coaching, it's been invaluable," Gallwas said. "Simple things she tells me - she's making me really think. She definitely gets the most out of her players."
Being part of the team has been really fun, too.
"It's almost like being in college again," she said. "We'll all eat together. It is just so fun.
"Everyone is in a good mood. Everyone is happy to do something in their 50s and compete," Gallwas added. "It's like a real family. It's just been the most fun I've had since college tennis, sportswise."
Pickleball also can be profitable. She and one of her teammates, David George, who is PPR (Pickleball Professional Registry) certified and a teaching pro, have paired up to offer clinics, calling themselves The PT and the Professor (she's been a physical therapist at Athletico for 25 years, he has a Ph.D. from Notre Dame). They're conducting one such clinic this weekend at the Salt Creek Club, offering sessions on various topics and then running a small tournament.
"Tournaments aren't just for pros," she noted.
They plan to schedule more clinics that will follow pro tournaments in which they compete.
"Now it might be this whole new way to travel and have a career outside of playing," she said.
She said she's learning more about marketing herself and has appeared on a couple of podcasts.
"I'm getting better," she said of her podcast appearances. "It's fun."
She believes pickleball truly is for everyone, from the "super super seniors" to young kids, she said.
"There is something for everyone at every level," she said. "I think it is a very inclusive, happy sport."