AUGUSTA — Milad Bozorgnia had just completed one pickleball match, and he eagerly awaited his next. Saturday was a day chock full of pickleball, and Bozorgnia couldn’t help but think of a year ago.

“Last year at this time, they were holding a tournament for me,” Bozorgnia, 48, of Jay, said.

In December 2015, Bozorgnia was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His last round of chemotherapy was in April, and now Bozorgnia said he’s “100 percent recovered.” Getting back on the pickleball court was one of Bozorgnia’s big motivators during his fight with cancer.

Talk to a few people at Saturday’s pickleball tournament at the A-COPI Tennis and Sports Center, and you quickly learn the sport is a healthy obsession, in a good way, like a diet or favorite band.

“I saw it being played in Florida, and I fell in love with it immediately,” Rocky Clark, 62, of Portland, said.

Clark is sort of Maine’s pickleball Johnny Appleseed. After learning the game in Florida, he came back to Maine and tried teaching as many people how to play as possible. Five years ago, Clark said, there were around a dozen regular pickleball players in Maine. Now, he said, there’s around 1,000.

“We had two or three places to play (in Maine),” Clark said. “Now we have 80.”

Pickleball is a racquet sport combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. The court is smaller than half a tennis court, and the net is lower, just a few feet off the ground. The close quarters means players have to be quick. Reflexes are as important as power. In one match, Bozorgnia and his mixed doubles partner, Ann Theriault, of Winthrop, had to return shots using forehand, then backhand, within seconds.

“You have to be very present,” Clark said. “I think it’s more exercise than playing double tennis. It’s similar to playing ping pong in your basement. We all work up a sweat pretty quickly.”

That mental focus needed to play is one reason pickleball has become popular with seniors. Clark said his 85-year old father and 82-year old mother each play. In his second year playing, Clark won the bronze medal in the 60-plus age group at the national pickleball championships. He and his wife, Anne, plan to play in a tournament in Destin, Florida, next month.

Theriault, 56, learned the game three years ago, when the A-COPI Tennis and Sports Center reopened and offered learn to play pickleball clinics. Playing pickleball has improved her tennis game, Theriault said.

“I think it compliments my tennis. My volleys in tennis have picked up because I play this,” Theriault said.

That’s just a fringe benefit, though. The real reason Theriault sticks with the game is the friendships she’s made. Bozorgnia relates. When he was at his lowest, fighting cancer, Maine’s pickleball community had his back.

“I’ve met some of the best people through pickleball,” Bozorgnia said.

When he played Saturday, Bozorgnia wore a yellow wristband to show his gratitude to the staff at the Harold Alfond Center For Cancer Care, where he received his treatment.

“They’re my angels,” he said.

Bozorgnia also wore mismatched sneakers, a red shoe with black laces on the left foot, a blue shoe with yellow laces (to show support for others battling cancer) on the right. The shoes are a reminder of a bigger life philosophy.

“In life, I’m always thinking of getting out of the box,” Bozorgnia said. “There’s more than one way of doing things.”

After beating cancer, whatever Bozorgnia does in life, it will include this sport he loves.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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