Stan Brothers of Lake Gaston and Linda Kidd of Norlina, N.C., made history as they won gold medals during the first French Open Pickleball Championships in late August.
The French Open featured athletes from the United States, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Canada, Finland, Switzerland, India and Germany competing in a sport which combines tennis, badminton, ping pong and racquetball techniques.
Brothers and Kidd have developed a reputation in Warren County for winning medals at the Senior Games at the regional and state levels, and at other tournaments. However, the duo considered the 2019 French Open as much more than a competition. They treasured the opportunity to build friendships with people from around the world and to view historic sites dating back to Roman times.
Kidd had not planned to participate in the French Open. Brothers registered for the competition months ago, but could not find a partner for mixed doubles. As competition drew closer, the event director offered to assign him a partner if needed, but Brothers thought of Kidd, who has served as his mixed doubles partner in a number of previous events.
Kidd recalled that her pickleball friend asked her, “Linda, do you want to go play the French Open?” Without much hesitation, she decided to go.
Walking through history
The Warren County duo arrived in France on Aug. 28, staying in the village of Saint-Paul de Vence in southern France. Kidd found an apartment in the walled city, and Brothers and his wife, Callie, stayed in their flat outside the city.
The Warren County travelers enjoyed being surrounded by history in Vence, a former outpost of the Roman Empire where modern paved roads cover ancient highways.
Brothers noted that the Romans built high altitude fortifications like those in the area of Vence in order to keep watch for pirates and to be prepared in the event of attack. An ancient fountain that provided water to the fortifications is still operational, he said.
“When you are there, you feel the history so much,” Kidd added. “You are walking on the same roads where people walked 2,000 years ago.”
The town lies at the same latitude as Boston, Mass., Brothers said, but maintains mild temperatures year-round, thanks to the Mediterranean Sea. He said that homes and apartments have no air conditioning, and there are no mosquitoes.
During their stay in France, Brothers handed Kidd a rock as they had lunch on the Riviera. The rock might have seemed ordinary until Brothers described it as being “from the formation of the Alps, polished by God from the beginning of time.”
Kidd admired the coloration of the rock, which had been transported by glaciers to the Mediterranean coast, and picked up more of the stones to give to family members.
The Warren County duo noted that southern France became a favorite destination for the French painters of the past who sought an escape from the heat of Paris where they practiced their artwork in the light.
Making new friends
For Brothers and Kidd, the opportunity to tour historic sites, meet new friends and play pickleball was a perfect combination. During a tournament dinner, Kidd was assigned to a table with athletes from the Netherlands, including Bernadette Snijders Blok, who became her doubles partner for the competition. Kidd learned that she had something in common with her new friend: both had biked along the Blue Ridge Parkway the previous month. Blok wore a Shenendoah Valley sweatshirt to honor Kidd, and the group later purchased breakfast for the Warren County resident.
Brothers said that his wife has made many friends in France through her love of quilting, but he is gaining on her. He met the mayor of Vence, Madam Catherine Le Lans, and tournament director Pierre Obozinski and other local officials.
Brothers found a men’s doubles partner in Tom Goodwin, who, along with his wife, has residences in both France and the United States.
The Warren County athlete also had an opportunity to take pickleball lessons from World Champion doubles teammates Kyle Yates and Irina Tereschenko.
The French Open Pickleball Championships were held in Fayence, located not far from Vence.
Each morning began with round robin competition to determine seeding for the tournament, with athletes playing eight games every day.
Temperatures on the court hovered around 98 degrees in the sun, so water breaks were welcome. In an area which formerly was a Roman outpost, obtaining water provided another connection with the past. Athletes filled their water bottles from a fountain dating to Roman times.
The tournament featured pickleball players as young as 19 through senior citizens. Brothers and Kidd competed in the 70 and older age group.
The duo took the gold in mixed doubles. Brothers also won gold in men’s singles and men’s doubles with Tom Goodwin.
By earning medals, the local residents— and their home county— became part of French Open history.
“There is only one first Open,” Brothers said. “We are forevermore listed as Warren County winners in our age bracket.”
Both Brothers and Kidd hope to return next year for the second French Open Pickleball Championships.
For now, they are turning their attention to pickleball competition at the Senior Games of North Carolina, which will be held in Concord beginning Oct. 15 — and hoping that people across the world will discover the fun and fitness opportunities they can experience by trying the sport with a funny name.
Pickleball courts are open locally from around 9 a.m.-noon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the John Graham gym, Wilcox Street, Warrenton.