ROANOKE, Va. – “Our mantra is to be mean and loose, be mean and loose in your play,” said Trish Hammer, a pickleball mathematician.
It is ‘play’ on the pickleball court that has turned very competitive for 62-year-old Trish Hammer.
“I love to beat people. They love to beat me, but we have a lot of fun. It is pretty serious, especially for women. We are pretty competitive, but we are good friends.”
But there’s something that gives Hammer an edge over her competition: math.
“When I was little and in high school. It came down between reading a book and a math problem. One-hundred percent I was working on a math problem.”
It’s a subject she turned into a very successful career as a mathematics professor and associate dean for faculty affairs with the College of Science at Virginia Tech.
“Math is about patterns. And if you look in the world around you, there are patterns everywhere.”
“I just really developed for the richness of it and the deepness of it. A lot of people think it is about numbers, but it is much more than that. It is a much more beautiful subject than that. I love to talk about math where it appears in the real world and in the applications around us.”
That includes pickleball.
“It is about the angle and margins of error and the odds of what is the best shot.”
But before Hammer had this realization, her life took a left turn two years ago.
“I had been married for 30 years, and we realized we would be happier going our separate ways. It makes it sound easier than what it was. For anyone who has been through it, it is never that easy.”
The divorce not only left her heartbroken but kept her mind racing in a dark space.
But driving by the court day after day, Hammer decided to switch things up a bit.
“Pickleball gave me something to focus on. Thinking about the next game or on the court the very next point and what I wanted to do gave me a break from everything that was going on, and it has a lot to do with where I am today and how I came out of all that.”
Then, the next thing she knows, she’s competing in tournament after tournament at a competitive level.
“We get in it. I am embarrassed to say I was playing in the national tournament in the region, and I got a curse warning. I was so embarrassed because I was going after a shot and I said, ‘That was a really good shot.’ I didn’t say it exactly like that and the ref came out and I said, ‘I know, I know.’”
When asked how decorated she is, Hammer responded, “I have a lot of medals. I tell people give me 20 minutes, and I can have you hitting basic shots to play in a game it is a very easy sport to get the hang of.”
And she wasn’t joking. But losing the love of her life to divorce and combining her loves of math and pickleball equaled a positive solution for Hammer that she didn’t see coming.
“The very best thing about pickleball is that I have found the love of my life at 62, and he is right over there playing next to me.”
That was especially the case when she won on the court a year ago when playing against Hal Brown, her boyfriend.
“One she was a really good player, two she had a great attitude, and she was cute,” Brown said.
The two even have their own traditional podium kiss.
“I’m happy and bubbly and have a spark about me. I found the love of my life,” said Hammer.
“I looked over at him and my heart did that little pitter-patter thing and I’m like, ‘Ooohhh!’” she continued.
We asked Hammer who the better player was and he said, “She is a way better player. That is not even a hard question to answer. She is a wonderful person. It was always in there; it is out there now. She is a wonderful person, beautiful in every single way.”
Hammer is now set to compete in a national championship in Dallas next month, and she plans to win gold.
“To me, it is about being on the court and giving it your best effort and knowing you left your best effort on the court.”
“If you have a bad day, let it go. That is the way I am approaching life, a day at a time, and I am having an absolute blast,” she said.