Big Man on Court: Hanlon stands tall in the world of pickleball
By Paddy Finnegan
The biggest presence in the Lake Havasu pickleball scene doesn’t even claim to be the first or the most impactful promoter of the sport here. No, he credits Tim and Carol Weaver for bringing the sport to Lake Havasu about 2009.
The Big Man on Court (BMOC) in Lake Havasu pickleball is, of course, the 6-foot-8 Andy Hanlon. Unofficially, he says he may be the biggest man in pickleball. “I’ve never seen anyone taller than me,” he said.
Even with his impressive stature, Hanlon credits the Weavers as the biggest presences in the region.
“Tim was a natural promotor.” Tim convinced the Aquatic Center to tape pickleball court lines on the floor. He even built nets to make four courts. “Those nets are still in use today,” he said.
“Tim was the first official pickleball ambassador in Lake Havasu,” said the BMOC. An ambassador acts for the national association to grow pickleball in a given area. Tim and Carol Weaver started Pickleball Pals in Havasu, the predecessor organization to the Lake Havasu City Pickleball Association which continues to advance the sport in town today, he said.
The Weavers also started pickleball play at the ARC, where, like at the Aquatic Center, they organized lessons for beginners. Play continues there today too.
The biggest presence continued by explaining that soon thereafter, Tim helped introduce pickleball to The Islander Resort, where they first played in the parking lot and later in a shuffle board area. Some of the city’s best players play there today.
Hanlon opened and shared his file of many yellowing newspaper articles attesting to pickleball’s early growth in Lake Havasu and the impact the Weavers had in building the foundation of this vibrant sport.
Finally, as a crowning feather in the Weaver’s hats, Andy credits them for helping lobby the city to build the first public outdoor courts at Dick Samp Park, where players today overwhelm the capacity of four small courts to accommodate them.
Sadly for Lake Havasu City, the Weavers moved to California a few years ago, but Hanlon was gracious in making sure their names are always known and rememberd by people playing pickleball today.
He knows what they accomplished because he worked alongside them for several years teaching lessons and organizing pickleball after he moved to Havasu in 2010. With eight years of pickleball experience already behind him in Seattle, the BMOC assumed Tim Weaver’s responsibilities as Havasu’s pickleball ambassador after Weaver moved. And the lines of pickleball players’ waiting to play have grown at every venue ever since.
“We introduced a lot of people to pickleball,” Hanlon said. He remembers teaching some of today’s best players how to play: Paul Targosz, David and Lisa Alexander, and others. Their level of play increased over the years to where they are now a serious challenge to him in many of their frequent friendly yet intense matches. Today, he frequently checks the weather early in the morning and arranges his work day around his time on the courts.
“My wife thinks that’s odd,” Andy said. She doesn’t play. She doesn’t understand.
She was doing yoga when he accidentally discovered pickleball years ago in Seattle. As college tennis player, that sport was his focus. But then his children wanted him to try pickleball at the Family Fitness Center in Burien. He wasn’t interested. When he finally relented, he quickly became addicted. So, after a hard day at work in the construction business around Seattle, Andy would go to the gym with his wife. She did her yoga and he played with some of Seattle’s best, pickleball players who went on to win national tournaments.
“I didn’t even know who they were,” Andy recalls. He just enjoyed playing with them. Billy Jacobson was one of them. Jacobson was his wife’s next-door neighbor earlier and went on to win the 2012 national singles championship, for example. Andy has stacks of old pickleball magazines showing some of his former Seattle friends and competitors who made good.
In Seattle in 2007, Hanlon began losing some of his natural abilities – his walking and vision deteriorated. At his wife’s urging, he saw a doctor. A week later, he was on the operating table having part of his scalp and a benign brain tumor removed. The surgery affected his optic nerve in the left eye and severely altered his vision in his right eye during recovery. He literally couldn’t see straight.
His recovery was slow and difficult. Laughingly, Hanlon added, “I remember going to the grocery store with my wife so I could lean on and push a grocery cart.” Eventually he walked laps at the gym, even though he “walked funny.”
At some point during the two-year recovery struggle, he picked up a pickleball paddle again. “I was addicted and knew that’s what I wanted to do. By playing the sport, I had something to live for and avoided depression,” Hanlon said. “Pickleball was part of my recovery.”
He and his wife formed a pact. “If I survived, we would relocate to the sun,” he said. He did, and they did. “We stumbled onto Lake Havasu,” Hanlon recalled. He had a cousin living here who invited them to visit.
Though not yet seeing perfectly again, Andy began playing with talented players in Havasu. They played in a “ton of tournaments,” he said. He didn’t talk about medals, just the enjoyment. “That’s what I missed in recovery – the camaraderie. It’s fun to see the joy in players, the smiles and laughs,” he said.
Andy still works with his brother buying and renovating homes. At 62, he’s ready for retirement. He has weathered the storm and looks forward to enjoying the sun.
You’ll know the BMOC when you see him on the courts – he’ll be the big guy with a smile.
Paddy Finnegan is a representative of the Lake Havasu Pickleball Association. For information, visit lakehavasupickleball.com.