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On two legs or in a wheelchair, TomHelfrich helps others learn the game

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Like many who take up pickleball, Tom Helfrich has a passion for the game, but it does not stop there. He is a mentor, motivator and knows first-hand about adapting from playing

the game on two legs and converting to a wheelchair. “In my book there’s no such thing as can’t because you can do anything you want to do if you try,” said Helfrich, who aside from pickleball began bike racing at 55 and competed for 20 years before taking up speed skating. “I don’t give up on anything because I have fun.”

Tom Helfrich figures he has given instructions to more than 700 pickleball players in the past 10 years.

Helfrich, who due to back problems converted from playing pickleball standing up to competing and teaching in a wheelchair about five years ago, has helped numerous ablebodied newcomers and adaptive athletes from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in recent years. Helfrich, of New Port Richey, has played pickleball since 2007 and has played in countless tournaments in various states with three national titles under his belt. Over the past 10 years he has helped more than 700 people, young and old alike, learn and hone their game. At the age of 85, Helfrich continues to work with pickleball players, having taught people on both the indoor and outdoor courts at the New Port Richey Recreation Center. Doug Cassidy, who at 76 is a relative newcomer to the sport, learned the game from Helfrich and continues to sharpen his skills on the ourt with a man he considers his mentor. “Tom doesn’t slam it,” said Cassidy, a former swimmer and swim coach. “He can place the ball on a dime.” For Dennis Martino, a 71-year-old retiree from Tarpon Springs, meeting

Helfrich last October was a life-changer. Martino battled cancer and plays in a wheelchair.

“He said, ‘You took me from the darkness to the light,’” Helfrich recalled. “He started smiling and would give me a hug all the time.” “It was a game-changer for me,” Martino said of meeting Helfrich. “Tom helped me psychologically.”

Wheelchair-bound Dennis Martino said meeting Tom Helfrich was a game-changer.

Another wheelchair-bound player is appreciative of Helfrich’s help — on and off the court. Julie Keenan, 49, saw a poster on a wall at the rec center and decided to call Helfrich about his instructions for players in a wheelchair.

Doug Cassidy (standing) considers instructor Tom Helfrich a mentor.

“He’s very helpful,” she said. “He has so much knowledge and he has a way to tell anyone how to (play pickleball). He’s very encouraging. You realize you can do a whole lot more with just a little bit of help.”

By Steve Lee Times Total Media Correspondent Photos courtesy of Steve Lee

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