CHERRY VALLEY — Troy Fiedler has been a sports star for years. Soccer. Athletics. Basketball. Volleyball.
“I did volleyball internationals in New Jersey,” he said.
But it has always been in Special Olympics. Fielder, 37, has Down syndrome. But that doesn’t hold him back in his new sport.
Fielder started playing pickleball two years ago. And, like much of the recreational sports world, he immediately got hooked on the fastest growing sport in the country.
“I started playing with a friend and his dad,” Fiedler said. “They are good pickleball players.”
Fiedler is too. He even won a Rockford area tournament for rookie players last year. And recently finished second in another, Dink Fest in Belvidere.
His mother began acting shortly after Fiedler. The two became completely addicted. They now play several times a week at Belvidere, Cherry Valley and Machesney Park. On Friday morning, he was one of more than 30 players taking turns at the six pitches at Darryl Lindberg Park near Forest Hills Country Club.
“I use Facebook,” he said. “Everything about pickleball is on Facebook. I have the app on it. Pickleball is a good sport. It’s funny. I want to teach young children to play.
When he loses, Fiedler sits out a few minutes until another court opens and he plays again with a new partner. Recreational pickleball is much like pick-up-basketball. Players never stay seated for long. They constantly change opponents and partners. And, more than almost any sport, it mixes a wide range of skill levels.
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“To see him in this sport is unreal,” said his mother, Terri Sherman. “He never liked a sport like he liked this one. And I play it. It’s a good thing for both of us.
“He’s getting older, so he doesn’t like Special Olympics much anymore, but he loves it. And he’s always been so social. It has nothing to do with his disability. Troy can just play the game. He can just play the game. TO DO.
Fiedler isn’t expecting any quarterbacks on the pickleball court.
“The best part about this sport is that nobody plays it differently,” Sherman said. “They play their game and they move on. Troy plays his game and he moves on. No special treatment. Nothing.”
It’s only fair, because he certainly doesn’t give his mother any special treatment.
“My goal is to hit hard,” Fielder said. “The funniest part for me is when she gets to the net, I kick her in the head and hit her right in the chin.”
He didn’t apologize.
“No, I’m just laughing,” he said.
His mother gives him a look when he tells this story with such relish.
But no one else is watching him. It’s just another pickleball opponent. Or teammate.
Both Chuck Merriott and Randy Johnson played at Fiedler’s court on Friday morning and have also played with him in the past.
“Troy is so much fun to play with,” said Merriott, brother of Ron Merriott, who won a bronze medal in diving at the 1984 Olympics. game. He knows how to play. I just like him as a partner.
“He’s good,” Johnson said. “He’s an above average player. We are very inclusive here. We have everyone from beginners to seasoned pros, and everyone plays together like a family. Troy is always friendly.
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Friday’s crowd, for example, included local pickleball pro Jen Lassandro and Corey Engel, who teaches pickleball lessons in Freeport and is a standout local tennis player.
“Troy fits in with everyone,” Merriott said. “Everybody loves him. We’re all happy when he’s here. He’s just a really good guy.
The community feeling of pickleball is one of the great attractions of the sport. This is especially true for Troy Fiedler and his mother.
“Socialization is great for him. And for everyone around him,” said Terri Sherman. “I go to these places and I’m known as Troy’s mother. If I’m not with him, they look at me, ‘Who are you? Why are you here?
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“I’ve never seen Troy enjoy anything as much as he enjoys the sport. Troy loves being around adults. With pickleball, they see Troy as just another player. That’s it. They play the game with him It’s a sight you wouldn’t believe It’s a feeling of being accepted.
“I have people texting me, ‘Is Troy playing tonight?’ “I have great friends who will take him to play. It really rocked his world. If I allowed it, Troy would be playing seven days a week.”