This Latter-day Saint has won 55 awards in pickleball, but for him it’s not just a sport — it’s a missionary tool

Dick Johnson, a member of the Boise North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has earned the title of Pickleball Rocks Player of the Year for 2018. Johnson, who has won about 55 pickleball tournament medals, including three medals at the 2019 National State Games of America this summer, is 79 years old and does not plan to slow down.

“We try to keep off the couch and pickleball has really helped us do that,” Johnson said in an interview with the Church News, referring to his wife Lawana Johnson. “It gets us out moving. Increasingly, I’ve had a lot of aches and pains and my back hurts, but we keep up and keep moving. It has been a real life-saver.”

Pickleball is a sport that uses a paddleboard and combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Participants use solid paddles and hit a ball, like a whiffle ball, over a net.

The Johnsons have found pickleball has blessed their lives not only physically, but socially as well. They love that grandparents can play with grandkids and “everyone can have fun from day one.” While Dick Johnson loves playing pickleball with his family, he also loves to compete in national tournaments.

“In pickleball age, I’m turning 80 in January,” he said. “I turn 80 next June, but for pickleball I turn 80 Jan. 1, which means I can play in the 80-year-old category instead of the 75-year-old category. Pickleball age categories are broken into five-year increments, and when you’re my age, you have an advantage playing against 81- and 82-year-olds over the 75-year-olds, if you know what I mean!”

Dick Johnson said he received the title of “Pickleball Rocks Player of the Year” because of who he is as a person and how the gospel of Jesus Christ has shaped him into the man he is becoming, not necessarily because of his pickleball skills. Throughout their successes, Dick and Lawana have found opportunities to share the gospel with others.

“A lot of people are curious about the church,” Dick Johnson said. “Many had never met a member of the church, so we have had a lot of experiences to tell them about the gospel. Most importantly, we taught them that we are Christians.”

Dick Johnson has earned the title of “Pickleball Rocks Player of the Year."
Dick Johnson has earned the title of “Pickleball Rocks Player of the Year.” Credit: Provided by Lawana Johnson

According to Dick, Lawana is “the big-time genealogist in the family.” In their retirement community in Arizona where they live in the winters, she teaches genealogy and computer classes.

“They are always interested in themselves and their families, and that brings you closer to the teachings of the gospel,” Lawana Johnson said. “When people start talking about their families, there’s a real attachment there. Then they become more interested in what else the gospel has to offer.”

Dick and Lawana Johnson’s greatest piece of advice: “You just have to open your mouth.”

“The only way we can fail is to fail to ask or open up our mouths to share the gospel,” Dick Johnson said. “We use genealogy to open the door and start a conversation. We use temple marriage and we explain that our grandkids are out on missions now. We find that people are curious and we just need to be genuine and have a love for people.”

Throughout 55 years of marriage, Dick and Lawana Johnson have seen that playing pickleball and living the gospel have played big roles in keeping their family close.

“To us, that is the most important thing of all,” Dick Johnson said.