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“Pickleball Ken” Marquardt with Shauna Hilgers and the Colorado Pickleball Community

Location, Arvada, CO

Pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport, combining elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. It is played either outdoors or indoors on badminton-sized courts with slightly modified tennis nets. I always say that pickleball is the perfect sport because everyone can do it, even adaptive athletes, those with special needs, and individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

The most amazing thing about pickleball is the community of more than 4,200 here in the Denver area that has formed around the sport. We benefit from the physical, social and emotional aspects of the game and are passionate about our play and our people. I tell story after story about how pickleball has enhanced our players’ lives. The “Pickleball Family” helped me recover from a serious back surgery and a traumatic brain injury that I sustained in a fall.

I helped advocate for and build the Apex Park and Recreation District’s 24 outdoor courts in Heroes Park at the Simms Street Recreation Center in Arvada, Colorado. When this beautiful facility opened, our community wanted to organize a tournament that would be open to both recreational and competitive players and that would raise money for Craig Hospital and TBI.

Our first Pickleball for Heroes tournament was held on Labor Day weekend in 2015. Each year the proceeds have benefited Operation TBI Freedom (OTF), now a program of Craig Hospital. Through the event, which is entirely planned by our committee of volunteers, we have raised more than $180,000 for the program. This year we have expanded our fundraising efforts beyond the tournament and our goal is to raise even more for the benefit of the OTF program and Craig Hospital.

I am passionate about honoring the Veterans who have suffered TBIs while paying the price for our freedom. It’s difficult to understand TBI if you haven’t experienced it. Because I have been there, I have a unique understanding of the challenges these brave men and women face. The Pickleball for Heroes tournament and our other fundraisers are a way to give back to them. We are so happy to partner with Craig Hospital again for our 2018 tournament on Sept. 1-3, 2018. We hope to see you on the courts! To learn more visit pickleballforheroes.org.


An increasing number of Veterans have experienced traumatic brain injuries as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With its five military bases and a Veteran population higher than the national average Colorado has a tremendous need for TBI services. Since 2000, more than 7,200 Veterans in Colorado alone have returned from conflict with TBIs. For those with this serious yet often invisible injury, the transition to civilian life can be especially difficult.

To meet the service needs of Veterans with TBI, Operation TBI Freedom, a program of Craig Hospital, offers individualized, relationship-oriented case management.

Eligible Veterans are assigned a military support specialist. These OTF staff members have extensive prior military service and are certified brain injury specialists. Their initial focus is twofold: first, working with each Veteran to resolve any immediate crises, second, developing a personalized plan – called the “life plan” -- to advance his or her reintegration into civilian life and increase self-sufficiency over the longer term.

These individualized reintegration plans aim to ensure that Veterans:

  • Receive adequate and timely treatment of physical and mental health issues;
  • Are equipped for long-term financial stability through optimization of earned benefits, a better understanding of financial management, and resources to secure civilian employment; and
  • Develop healthy relationships with family members, friends and community members.

OTF serves 250-300 Veterans at any given time and up to 500 during the course of an average program year. Since its founding in 2008, OTF has assisted more than 1,500 service members and leveraged approximately $7 million in services and therapies through partnerships with military and community organizations.