Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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HomeFitnessQ&A With Pickleball Pro, Austin O'Reilly

You may already know Austin O’Reilly as an entrepreneur and experienced DNA scientist with a demonstrated history in the biotech industry. He’s skilled in DNA testing and molecular techniques in clinical, health and forensic applications. He has strong biomedical research and testing experience with a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology from Texas Christian University.

What you may not know is that he’s also a seasoned athlete who excelled in tennis, basketball and football during his time at Springfield Catholic High School. Austin has now gone Pro in the sport of Pickleball. FitLife recently caught up with Austin to ask him a few questions.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the game of Pickleball.

My tennis background is initially what sparked the intrigue for getting into pickleball. The sports share a lot in common when it comes to swing mechanics, hand-eye coordination and reaction time. I started playing tennis when I was six, spending countless days each summer at Hickory Hills learning how to play from the local legends, Jim and Doug. After the daily clinics were finished, you could find me wandering the courts asking anyone/everyone if they wanted to “hit”.  I did that year after year until high school, when the competitiveness of the sport really came to light. Suddenly there was individual competition and pressure to win against all the kids I had so much fun with all those years.

I was no stranger to team competition, having played almost as much basketball as I did tennis, but individual competition is a different animal (and highly addictive!). I got really into it… and even sacrificed the summer of ’02 to attend the elite, Bollettieri Tennis Academy to try and get the extra edge on the players back home. At Springfield Catholic High I played #1 varsity, placed 1st in district singles all four years, 4th in team state two years, and 5th in state singles my Senior.

Tennis was my thing, and I didn’t want anything to happen to it after moving to Texas for college. It turns out I was dreaming when I thought I had a chance at an athletic scholarship to one of the best D1 Tennis schools in the country. The coach did offer me a chance to ‘walk-on’ the team, but was honest when showing me his team of all-stars, basically saying I won’t have a chance to ever play top 6. At the time, in my mind, the competitive sport of Tennis was over for me. A thorn first stuck in the side. Years of training and determination to win and be better at something, were gone or wasted?   

Fast forward twenty or so years to 2022… I’m a 36 year old scientist with some degrees, my brainchild company Dynamic DNA, good friends and loving family. With all that, the thorn was jabbed in as a reminder that there is still a hidden skillset/drive deep down, just not accessible. I was still missing something.

A mutant sport in itself, cross-bred in a love affair between badminton, volleyball and ping-pong, is Pickleball. The funny named sport has provided that exact re-invigoration to life I was looking for, that thing I thought was more-or-less lost and only accessible via Tennis. It was Pickleball. 

Special appreciation to the persistence of my brother Matt, and good friend Michael, to get me on the court. I’ve played for almost two years now and have been competing on the Pro APP and PPA tours for the last year. I have a court in my backyard and train 5-6 days a week, and have confidently pulled the thorn from my side and recovered what was missing for so many years. That thing.    

How do you balance fun with competitiveness?

Ya it’s definitely a big topic. There’s a fine line crossed when ‘all fun and games’ transitions to fierce competition, it’s always fun to cross!  

The most commonly associated word with pickleball is undoubtedly “Fun”, rightfully so! At the beginner levels, the sport lends itself to a wide variety of players/characters, promoting community and socializing in a semi-competitive, recreational atmosphere. As players progress to Advanced they’ll get pickier with who they play with as games become more competitive, and focus shifts more internally towards shot development, self-critique and match strategy. In the end, no one likes to lose, but no matter where you are in the process it should always add some sort of value to your life and be fun! 

What Paddle Do You Use And Why?

I’m a bit biased toward JOOLA as a player on their sponsored pro team, so I use the JOOLA Perseus 16mm for both singles and doubles. Really nice softness, but plenty of pop and spin control. Just received their new GEN-3 pddle prior to the public launch, look forward to making the switch tomorrow!

Prior to joining JOOLA, I was with Team CRBN and used the CRBN X1 (14 and 16mm). Similar paddles in many ways, slightly more pop and less control in my opinion.

Where Do You See This Sport In 5 Years?  Any Short-Term And Long-Term Goals?

Well, currently there’s a whole cluster of leagues and organizations that unfortunately are competing more with one another instead of focusing on the substance of the true competition and quality of their tours (there are exceptions). Ready?! We got the APP, PPA, VIBE?, MLP, USAP, NPL, DUPR, all playing a game of, “Who’s got the brighter pickleballs”. There’s been no shortage of drama in the pickleball world for the two years I’ve been a part of it, and have to say it’s been fun to watch unfold from the sidelines.

Ideally in 5 years we’ll have one consolidated Pro Pickleball Tour that utilizes collaborative resourcing among organizations to extend reach, lower costs, and provide quality tournaments with all the best players at an international scope.

The game is also becoming very fast paced, with new technology/material being used in paddle production that really stretches the thresholds of what “traditional” pickleball once knew. The testing thresholds for a “legal paddle” need to be homed in and optimized to maintain the normal, standard risks associated with pickleball. There is talk that protective eyewear will be required in the future due to rare eye injuries and increasingly poppier paddles…we need to make sure that doesn’t happen, I don’t like to wear glasses when I play.

Short-term goal: Make it to the podium (top 3) in each of the three Pro events: Singles, Men’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles

Long-term goal: Make it to the podium in each of three events on the Senior Pro Tour  🙂  

What Is Your Most Memorable Moment So Far In Pickleball?

I registered for my first tournament, “The Hot Springs, AR Classic”, after only a couple months of playing. I got the Gold medal in singles, and Silver in mixed doubles. I was on cloud 9 and thought that was pretty cool.

Last year at PPA Newport Beach I got to play on center-court against tennis legend and world record holder for consecutive aces served in a match (10), Sam Querrey. I lost 7-11, 5-11, but the thrill of playing in the spotlight against one of the top U.S. tennis players of our time will surely be memorable. I’ve been training hard since then and have come a long way, I’ll beat him next time.

Aside from competing on the Pro Tour, what other pickleball-related endeavors are you involved with?

Recently I designed the “Panther Pad” for the new Drury University Pickleball Program. It will be finished in a couple of weeks and will be the first ever university pickleball program with a dedicated facility, coaching staff and scholarship offerings.

I’m also a co-owner of one of the twenty-four Major League Pickleball teams, the Brooklyn Aces.

What can you tell us about the Panther Pad?

The Panther Pad is the newest addition to the campus of Drury University. The outdoor rec-center features six dedicated pickleball courts (+2 flex courts), 1 tennis court, 1 full-size basketball court, and a pavilion with seating and entertainment space. In the heart of the campus, the Pad will be an open hub for students to congregate and enjoy campus life. The vision for the site was to create an environment where all students, faculty, and staff will have a safe place to socialize and enjoy recreational activities as a community.

The Panther Pad will also be home to the new Drury Pickleball Team that will begin competition this coming school year ’24-’25. While there are already over 200 pickleball ‘club’ teams across the country, Drury is the first to recognize the sport on the varsity level and incorporate a full-time coaching staff, (Jarrod Smith) operational budgets, and scholarships.

The venue serves as a blueprint that other universities are encouraged to replicate as the sport is growing so quickly. Pressure is mounting on the powers that be, and we remain hopeful to see Pickleball become a recognized collegiate sport in the coming years, and down the road in the Olympics.

When do you get the chance to relax? What is your favorite hobby outside of Pickleball?

I spend a lot of time outside one way or another. A lot of city bike riding and hiking/walking in Austin, then in Springfield I’m in nature with a creek and forest (and pickleball court), so I have a hard time leaving the house! I’m into telephoto wildlife photography, reading, snowboarding, and always planning for the next travel adventure.

What’s your advice for someone who would want to get involved in Pickleball?

Don’t be shy. Ask a friend who’s been playing for a while if you can “try” one of their old paddles (they’ll let you keep it..).  Then you’ll download the PicklePlay app that will tell you where your local courts are located, what times are best, level of play, etc. For the first timers, this last part is the hardest… you physically have to GO there and play! Just remember, no one is judging you and everyone has been at the level you’re at right now.

It’s a very welcoming and friendly sport for beginners. It would be a hard sell for someone to find a reason not to start playing. It’s a fun way to exercise, mentally stimulating, triggers nostalgia of childhood competition, and can be as physically demanding as you want it to be. It’s also highly therapeutic and a great way to free the mind from daily stresses.

What does your training/diet consist of?

It depends. If I’m solo, a training day could consist of: Serving baskets of balls, ball machine work to either target shots needing improvement, or increasing the feed speed and side-to-side lateral movements for cardio or agility training. You can also do “wall drills” if you have ANY open wall that you can stand five-seven feet back from in your house. These will give you the most repetition, but only recommended for those that live alone or after the family leaves house  🙂 

Having one other player of your similar level is the most efficient way to train. You can work on dinking drills in the kitchen, play skinny singles, full-court singles, 7-11 drills, fast hands, etc. Two-person drilling is the best way to advance more quickly in the sport and keep your shots on point.

Three other players allow you to play competitive doubles games that will mimic what you’ll see in tournament match play.

I take 1-2 days off a week from the court, which usually consists of eating a lot, hydrating, and going through different recovery mechanisms so muscles can be ready again sooner. Cold, heat, compression, stretching, yoga, cupping, massage, a little weed, rest, just to name a few. 

My diet is pretty keto-heavy, intermittent fasting in the mornings with Bulletproof coffee until lunchtime, I don’t eat breakfast unless I’m on vacation for some reason. Lunch is usually a smoothie plus a bowl or sandwich, big dinner. I take a variety of vitamins everyday, water, electrolytes, usually wrapping up with some candy or ice cream before bed (this might not work for everyone). I can’t remember the last time I had more than a glass of wine, it feels great!  

Keep up with Austin on Instagram @showmepickle

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