APP: What was it like growing up in Germany? What was your sports background – did you play any racket sports?
Megan Fudge: I grew up playing tennis since my dad was a tennis coach. He’s originally from New Zealand and moved to Germany to coach tennis at a big club there. So literally, the moment I was able to walk, I was on a tennis court, swinging a tennis racket around. I grew up with that sport in mind and my whole family played. I later came over to the States to play college tennis and I got recruited by University of Illinois, where I met and fell in love with my husband [APP pro Ryler DeHeart] in college. As the dream goes, I got to stay in America.
APP: When did you first start playing pickleball?
Fudge: The first time Ryler and I played pickleball was during the pandemic. We were actually on lockdown and looking for things to kind of do, and we were like, “Hey, we can draw this court in our driveway with chalk, and it would still be just us, so it shouldn’t break any rules.”, so we went out there and started playing.
Ryler and I are very competitive, so as soon as we started playing, we started just beating up on each other. Before we even knew it, we were looking around and all our neighbors were watching us out of their windows, cheering us on, and it was just super fun. We were like, “Oh, this is a fun outlet for us to bring out our competitiveness.” We had our tennis backgrounds, so pickleball came to us pretty naturally.
A couple months later, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. The lockdown was over and we were looking for people to meet and other couples with children. People kept on saying to us, “Hey, go check out pickleball. It’s a great way to meet other couples and it’s very, very social.” We responded to that like, “Hold on, we’re not retired. We’re not retirees. We’re not in our sixties to meet people. We’re in our thirties.” But they kept saying, “No, young people play now.”, and so we’re like, “Okay, I guess we’ll go check it out.”
We went out to this club and put our paddles in, as I say, and we never looked back. We met these other couples with children and we became really good friends with them, started training, and it’s just been a really, really fun journey for us to embrace.
APP: That’s a story that we hear more and more often, that people aren’t sure about it. They think it’s only for older people, but then they get into it, they pick it up really fast, and it’s becomes a lot of fun.
Fudge: Yes, for sure. Ryler and I are textbook examples.
APP: When did you first get involved with the APP?
Fudge: In January of 2022, we signed up for our first APP tournament in Punta Gorda, Florida. As soon as we got there, we felt a very welcoming feeling. [APP Founder] Ken Herrmann came up to Ryler and myself because Ryler had been working for the USTA (United States Tennis Association) and that’s where Ken had worked as well. Ken said, “Ryler, I know you!”, and Ryler was like, “Oh my gosh, nice to meet you.”
We started talking to Ken and he was just so welcoming. Ken said, “Okay, tell me about yourselves. What are you guys trying to do with pickleball?” We’re like, “Well, right now, we’re just trying to gauge the game, get an idea what pickleball’s about.” I actually remember us losing at first, going 0-and-2 in mixed doubles, but then I went on to win a silver medal in singles, and it was just so eye-opening.
Everybody from the APP Tour just embraced us with open arms and welcomed us, and not just me and Ryler as players, but our kids, JR and Lillian, as well, which was just so nice. We really didn’t know how we were going to manage and balance watching our children, competing, training, recovering, and the APP just made it so easy for us.
APP: You mentioned your two kids. Anyone who’ve been to an APP tournament with you and Ryler knows your two kids – they’re up and coming pros. What has it been like bringing them into the world of pickleball?
Fudge: It’s been phenomenal, honestly. They love it. They’re more pickleball addicts than we are. They know all the players and a lot of the players know them, as you mentioned. They love jumping on the court and they honestly can’t wait to start competing. I have to keep telling them, “Your time will come, your time will come. Just keep developing your games.”
People ask Ryler and I about how much are we teaching them pickleball. Honestly, the beauty of this game is you can go out and find your own way. It’s not as technical as tennis where we have to really zone in on certain techniques of the wrist position and all these things. I would love for them to just try things out and hit the spots and hit the spins that they want to hit. In the end, they’re going to be the ones teaching us because I feel like this game is still at such an early phase that new shots are getting developed constantly.
APP: We know that they’re going to be great players one day. Everyone can tell. Switching gears a little bit, what does pickleball mean to you?
Fudge: At this point in our lives, pickleball has been this incredible platform for us to be together as a family. This time last year, I was still working a desk job, as an insurance agent. My husband was coaching tennis. While my kids were still homeschooled, we definitely didn’t spend as much time together just because different parts of our lives were calling us in different directions. Basically, what pickleball has done for us is that it’s brought us together as a family.
We literally get to do this every week and travel. We’re actually now in an RV full-time, where we just travel from week to week to different events, different tournaments and different sites. We have our two kids and our two dogs with us, and my mom’s visiting with us too. We were just in Arizona for a tournament, and we went after to the Grand Canyon for a little bit of family time and then head back to through Dallas. We trained there and then we just got to back to Tampa and then in Daytona. I mean, who gets to do this? We get to do this because of pickleball. It’s amazing.
APP: That’s got to be such an incredible experience for you. That just proves pickleball is a family sport and you can play it anywhere.
Fudge: Yes. I mean, some people are like, “How are you guys doing everything in an RV?”, but it’s 29 feet long. It gets tight at times, but honestly, we are outside so much. Every stop we make, we are either going on a hike or looking for pickleball courts or going to the beach or looking at a site when the sliders come out. We get to just embrace this journey and constantly just be thankful for what we get to do day in and day out. It’s just an incredible time together and the memories we get to make, whether it’s on the court, winning medals or whether it’s hiking or traveling cross country. It’s constantly something new.
APP: If you could describe the APP in one word, what would that would be?
The first person we see when we walk into the site here is Ken Herrmann with a big smile on his face. Then we see all the other staff that support him in such a great way now too. And that’s exactly it. The first word that comes to mind for us, is our extended family.
APP: One last question. You’re a professional athlete. You have kids who want to be professional athletes. So, what advice would you have for young athletes out there who are aspiring to be pros, not just in pickleball, but any sport?
Fudge: The biggest thing is always being progress-minded. That sometimes we get caught up, especially nowadays, where we see the medal count or the trophy wins or the triple crowns. Those are end results that we get to highlight on our social media reels and all these things. We’ve got to remember, especially for a lot of younger players and junior athletes across the board, is that those results are just the tip of the iceberg. That is not where all the work went in.
All the work has happened over the years and over the months and over the days and nights of endless work and dedication and persistence and resilience and all those aspects. Being progress-minded means that you’re constantly trying to just improve and get better and that you have things that are not outcome-orientated, but just knowing that you’re getting better at something and that you’re working towards enjoying your journey and getting better on your journey, because you don’t really know where it’s going to take you.
Pickleball is at an incredible spot right now. We don’t even know what the end result is going to be. We don’t know if we’re going to get into the Olympics or if we’re going to be a worldwide sport. All these things could be possible, and I think they will be possible. Right now, we’re just going day in and day out thinking, “Okay, what can I improve on today? What can I get better on this week?” – that’s been our mentality.
Megan Fudge and the rest of the APP pros return to action at the 2023 APP Mesa Open, March 29-April 2 at Bell Bank Park in Arizona. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Player Spotlight series!