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Group honors Pickleball Ken and raises funds for veterans

The fundraising dinner will be Feb. 22

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The pickleball community in Arvada is strong and growing more each day. Many of those involved in the sport say they’re there because of one guy, Ken Marquardt — known affectionately by the community as Pickleball Ken.

In 2011 Marquardt brought pickleball to the Arvada area and few years later started using the sport to raise funds for veterans with brain injuries.

Pat Welch, 80, started playing pickleball at Apex when she retired four years ago. She remembered the sport because of a story she read about Marquardt in the newspaper.

“I love it,” she said. “I love the friendliness and the friendships we’ve developed. And it’s fantastic exercise, especially for older people.”

Cheryl Mee, 71, said playing pickleball keeps her moving and helps her control her multiple sclerosis.

“I haven’t had any episodes since started playing three years ago, “Mee said.

Marquardt also hooked Tom Carney on the sport.

“After retirement, I went to silver sneakers breakfast,” Carney explained. “They told us about the things for seniors and then Pickleball Ken stood up. It sounded like the dumbest thing.”

But Carney gave it a shot anyway and he, too, got hooked. Now, 11 years later he is teaching others to play. He credits it all to Pickleball Ken.

“He’s gotten my mindset to help others,” Carney said of Marquardt. “I volunteer five days a week, teach days days a week. I feel healthier, happier and I love the aspect of helping veterans.”

The pickleball group started fundraising for veterans in 2015, with the event Pickleball for Heroes, a fundraiser with Craig Hospital that helps Veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The inaugural event drew a little over 200 players and raised $43,000. In 2016 group raised more than $70,000 and over 300 players.

Last year they raised $170,000.

The 2018 event to benefit Operation TBI Freedom is scheduled for Sept. 1-3.

Operation TBI Freedom is a privately-funded organization and is sponsored by Craig Hospital and services more than 350 veterans and their families annually.

But members of the Front Range Pickleball Club want to do more to help veterans and also want to honor Marquardt for all he’s done as an ambassador in the community.

That’s why the group will be hosting the Pickleball Ken Changing Lives Award Dinner on Feb. 22. The dinner will recognize Ken and Sharon Marquardt for their commitment to the sport and the Pickleball community and also serve as a fundraiser for Operation TBI Freedom.

“Ken always says we’re changing lives,” Carney said. “If Ken is changing lives, he’s changing all of our lives. So that’s what we want to thank him for.”

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