Maui has been hit by some of the worst wildfires in recent history.
Lahaina, one of Maui’s most popular tourist towns, is nearly completely destroyed. Although families are evacuating and times are uncertain, nearly 20 Maui pickleballers showed up to Bainbridge Island’s Founders tournament.
“It’s heartwrenching because so many people are missing, houses are gone, and it is tough to play,” Maui pickleball ambassador Laurie Loney said. “It is a good distraction and the only distraction right now, but when we get a moment, it all comes back. We have been supporting each other and are doing it for Maui.”
Since the fires began, a few Maui players returned home instead of playing in the tournament. A few others plan to return once the tournament finishes. Even though their trips have been altered, they said they have enjoyed experiencing the birthplace of pickleball.
“The past few days have been tough,” Marsha Sarver said. “My house has been on the ready. But, I came to Bainbridge since I work at Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, and we have a sister campus on Bainbridge Island. It makes sense for me to do some work and play in the tournament.”
Nikki Jansen added many of the Maui players came to Bainbridge Aug. 8 and explored the original court and some of the tourist attractions “on the most beautiful day with the sun.”
The Bainbridge community has opened its arms to the Maui players. “People are super nice, and it is really wonderful,” said Stacy Shirley, another pickleball player from Maui. “When we first arrived, we were invited to a private court and were playing games for three hours. When we showed up to the courts, people were hugging me that I don’t know, and it feels like we have known each other forever.”
In addition, some of the Founders Tournament organizers have helped promote a handful of Maui pickleball nonprofits that have been donating money in support of families affected by the Maui wildfires. “It was devastating news when I heard and was trying to play on Wednesday,” Loney said. “I could barely play. However, everyone I have talked to worries about Maui, and it’s been very comforting.”
For some of the Maui players, pickleball has been the perfect distraction. “It is a nice respite, and we can all be together, loving each other, hugging each other and playing with Aloha,” Shirley said.
Playing pickleball on BI is a similar experience to playing on Maui, they said. Bainbridge and Maui “are very similar,” Loney said. “They are both small islands but just do not have the same (pickleball) history as Bainbridge Island.”
Although it is tough to escape the reality in Maui, the pickleball players from there are hoping to return with medals around their necks. “We are looking forward to those gold medals,” Shirley said.