Jesse and Jalyne Purcell | Birds of a Feather Play Pickleball Together

Most people in Southern Utah are at least vaguely aware of pickleball courts popping up in various parks around St. George. Many are familiar with the basic rules and consider it a fun way to exercise. For others, it is played passionately. However, for Jesse Purcell, pickleball is more than a game. It is the sport that saved his life.

Jesse grew up in Samoa, but immigrated with his family to the United States as a young teen. After spending many years in Orange County, California, he moved to St. George, where met his wife, Jalyne.

Jesse and Jalyne love Southern Utah and consider it home.

“I’ve never been back to Samoa,” Jesse said. “I wish I’d been born here. … I love the desert, the mountains, the colors, the open space.”

Jesse smiled as he recounted how pickleball changed his life. “I’m a weight lifter,” he said. “I’ve done it all my life. I’d never been to a doctor; never been to a hospital.”

All of that changed one morning when Jesse suffered a small stroke. Although he attended rehab and therapy, Jesse’s health remained poor. To further complicate matters, Jesse had been diagnosed with diabetes and had difficulty keeping his blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check.

Jesse continued lifting weights as he tried to keep his health strong. However, he was not experiencing the progress he wished. One day, Jesse’s nieces invited him to play pickleball. It took a little convincing, but once Jesse started going, he didn’t stop.

In the words of Jalyne, pickleball is a cross between tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton, played on a small tennis-like court with a wiffleball and oversized Ping-Pong paddles.

Soon, Jesse was playing pickleball nearly every evening.

Jalyne said, “When we went to the doctor, his [Jesse’s] numbers were down so far that he [the doctor] was just flabbergasted. He said, ‘I don’t know what you are doing. But whatever you’re doing, don’t quit.’”

Nothing could be further from Jesse’s mind. He taught Jalyne to play, then began playing in tournaments bringing home gold and silver medals during his first few competitions.

Although they both love pickleball, they usually do not play together in tournaments. Jalyne explained, “We are very competitive unless we play together. We’re just weird. We get lazy. I guess we think, ‘Well, why get that? He’s not going to hate me if I don’t.‘”
Jesse’s health continues to improve as he heads to the pickleball courts each night. “Now his numbers are all good,” Jalyne reported with a smile. “His health is better. His balance is better, almost one hundred percent. We say to each other that pickleball saved his life.”

Yet, Jesse is not the only person to feel healthier. Jalyne said, “Because I was playing him, I was able to lose about 50 pounds.”

For Jesse, pickleball has restored a sense of self-confidence after his stroke. He appreciates life more.

“My philosophy of life is that everything is good: our pains and our sorrows, our experiences make us better people,” Jesse said.