The APP is home to incredible pickleball players, of all ages and performance levels, who come with a rich range of stories that brought them to the sport we love. In our APP Player Spotlight series, we shine the light on the vast range of pickleball players and give them a platform to tell their own stories. Up next is Riley Bohnert, a Louisville native who is making waves on the APP Tour at just 18 years old.
We hope you enjoy reading Riley's story. Please note, this story contains content that may be distressing for some readers. We thank Riley for her honesty and bravery, and have included links to a number of organizations that may be helpful for anyone who feels they could benefit from assistance or guidance.
APP: When and how did you get involved in pickleball?
Bohnert: I started about two years ago during the pandemic. We have a tennis court in my backyard, and one day my parents got the lines down, got the nets and paddles, and we all went out as a family and just liked to hit the ball, really hard. It was really fun – we could get all our anger out. Then my dad said, “This is an actual sport, you know”, and I was like, “There's no way.” He took me to a tournament and we played together, and it was the most fun thing I've ever done in my life – so I just continued to keep going.
APP: When did you decide that this was going to be a professional venture for you?
Bohnert: It was around the summer of 2022 – my mom and I played at the APP Indianapolis Open in Women's Pro Doubles together. We started out the day arguing with each other, and then my mom was saying, “We're never going to make it in the pro tour.”, and I said, “Mom, we signed up. We have to do this. It'll be so much fun, let's just put on a fake smile and pretend we can do it.” So, we went out and we ended up making it to the finals and went on to win gold. My mom turned to me and goes, “this is going to be your pro sport.” It was so awesome.
APP: Your parents have been so involved in this journey for you. What's it been like to have this become a family affair?
Bohnert: I's my favorite thing. My dad is my coach and my manager. My mom used to be my pro women's partner, but then she decided to step back and be a mom. It's my favorite thing in the world because we always have something to talk about and it's brought our family extremely close.
APP: What are your goals for this year?
Bohnert: My goals for this year are to continue to grow as a person and a player, to just keep proving myself on the court, and to just have a lot of fun. I want to grow as a person because I'm only 18 years old – I'm still a girl, so I like to gossip with other girls and so I need to restrain myself sometimes and learn to do that. As a player I need to become a little smarter on the court with my shot selection.
APP: What do people say when they find out you’re an 18-year-old professional pickleball player?
Bohnert: There's some people that love it and are really supportive about it. Then there's other people that are like, “You're playing pickleball? As a 18 year old? You're not going to college? What are you doing?” They’ll also say things like “You'll never make money, you're never going to make it.”, and I just tune those people out.
APP: Does that serve as motivation for you?
Bohnert: Yes. There’s a story where I was at one of my home courts and I was just playing for fun with a bunch of friends, and this guy comes up and says, “Hey, I heard you're playing pro now.” I said, “Yeah, it's really fun.” Then he said, “You're never going to make it, you can't play pickleball as a career. You should just stop now.” – and I said, “Well, I'm going to try my best.” That really, really motivated me to just prove him wrong.
APP: More than 48 million people have played pickleball in the last year. How big do you think this sport can get?
Bohnert: I think this sport can take over the world. I think it's the best sport anyone can play.
APP: Pickleball has aspirations to become an Olympic sport. What, what would that mean to you, and what would it mean to represent your country in the Olympics?
Bohnert: It would be the best for the sport and for all the pros as well, just because we work just as hard as any other sport. Some people think pickleball is a joke, so to make it to the Olympics and prove to everyone else in the world that this is a real sport, and to represent the United States would be awesome.
APP: Who are some people in your life that you could not have started this journey or come this far without?
Bohnert: Definitely my sisters. They have other sports and may not love pickleball as much as I do, but if they didn't support me as much as they did, then I would not be going to tournaments. My grandparents also help watch my sisters when both my parents go to my tournaments, and they always call and text and watch how I'm doing and it means the world to me.
Family is my favorite thing in the world, I love my family. I'm a family person, so I will always rather do stuff with my family than anything else. It's the best feeling in the world when I'm on a live stream and I'm just thinking, “Oh, my grandparents are back home watching on the TV”, and my grandfather will call me and he'll be yelling at the TV and it's just the best feeling in the world.
APP: How did you get involved with the APP?
Bohnert: My first APP tournament was St. Louis last year, and then I played the APP Indianapolis Open right after where I won with my mom. That’s where I met [Tour organizer] Dana Joseph and [APP founder] Ken Herrmann and fell in love with the atmosphere, and it became like another family.
APP: How would you describe the APP in one word?
Bohnert: Support. Everyone here is so supportive. When I travel by myself, I feel like I have parents that I can go to anywhere that aren't technically my parents, but I know that I will always have someone at the APP especially Dana and Ken. They mean the world to me and will do anything for me, and it's the best feeling.
APP: What does pickleball mean to you?
Bohnert: Pickleball is my life. It literally saved my life.
I was at a very low point in my life, like ready to just be done with everything, and then my dad said, “Let's go play some pickleball,” and it literally became my happy place and I could not be here without it. I didn't have a very happy life at the time and was ready to end everything in my life, and then I found pickleball and I couldn't stop smiling. I just wanted to play pickleball all day long and that's what kept me going.
APP: That’s really amazing. You’re really brave for sharing that. Reflecting on that now and how you felt there and how you felt now, what is it like for you to look back on that and now be at such a different point in life?
Bohnert: To look back on that, it really goes to show how much a sport can change someone’s life. Now, whenever I go to tournaments, when I get off the airplane, I just have the biggest smile on my face because I get to go to a tournament and be with people that are just like the sweetest, happiest people ever. Looking back on it, I'm like, “Thank god my dad showed me pickleball.”
APP: What’s been your biggest challenge being a pro pickleball player?
Bohnert: My biggest challenge has definitely been school. They are very supportive of me and let me miss class as much as I can, but it's very hard because I have a lot of teachers that judge me for what I do, and I just have to like push through that. But then I also have teachers that are very supportive. When teachers judge me, it makes me a little upset because I have good grades and I do all the work, but they just get upset when I miss their class.
APP: What’s some advice that you would give or that you've been given that's really helped you along the way in your pickleball journey?
Bohnert: Even at your lowest point, just put a smile on your face and fake it ‘til you make it. My dad always tells me that.
APP: Switching gears to some rapid-fire questions. Outside of the world of pickleball, who is your dream pickleball partner?
Bohnert: Harry Styles – I love him.
APP: Do you have any pre-match music or a song to get you in the right mindset?
Bohnert: My go-to pre-match song would be Chandelier by Sia.
APP: Favorite pre-match and post-match snack?
Bohnert: Oranges pre-match, acai bowl post-match.
APP: Any hidden talents?
Bohnert: I'm a really good swimmer. I used to swim competitively, but when I found pickleball my coach kicked me off the team unfortunately – I was missing so many days.
APP: Any guilty pleasures?
Bohnert: I love the show New Girl. Max Greenfield is my favorite character, Schmidt.
APP: What motivates you?
Bohnert: My dad. He's always been there for me. I want to play pickleball for myself, but I also want to play for him because he is just the biggest supporter of mine. He's so sweet, but he can also be very intense at times, and he's just given literally everything for me to play pickleball.
Bohnert and the rest of the APP pros return to action at the 2023 APP Newport Beach Open, June 28-July 3 at The Tennis and Pickleball Club at Newport Beach, in Orange County, California. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Player Spotlight series.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 24/7 with a trained crisis counselor at 988lifeline.org.