Ryler DeHeart and Megan Fudge met in college, married shortly after, and had two kids.
They left tennis for pickleball and now tour the country playing.
They say the experience is a huge adventure for their kids.
Ryler DeHeart and Megan Fudge met while playing on the tennis teams for the University of Illinois. He hit the professional tour when he finished school in 2006 before becoming a coach. They connected again after Megan graduated in 2010 and married a year later in a Vegas chapel.
Lily, 8, and JR, 6, were born while Ryler was a college tennis coach, first at the University of Alabama and then at Florida State. There were continual job changes and moves, and it made them reconsider their dedication to the sport. They wanted to keep the children on top of the priority list, that's when pickleball entered their lives.
They picked up pickleball during the pandemic
During the pandemic, the DeHearts were looking to do things as a family for exercise, and that's how they started in pickleball.
"We kept on hearing about pickleball, and we're like, 'we can try doing this,' you know, draw a court on our driveway and figure it out, and so we started playing," explained Megan.
They continued to look more into the sport when they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.
The 35-year-old mom explained, "We finally caved and went out to some courts and met other couples that had kids as well."
They joined a professional pickleball tour
The DeHearts were still looking for jobs and deciding where to live while developing a love for pickleball. They joined the professional tour and spent months in airports and hotels with their children in tow.
"I felt like it was always a lot of uprooting and coming back and unpacking, packing, and doing it all over again," admitted Megan.
The solution became clearer when she signed a contract and committed to a pickleball team. She received a good bonus and wanted to use it to benefit the family. Ryler, 39, would later sign with a team too.
"Right now, our dogs live in our house, and we're paying a lot of rent for a doghouse," she told her husband, "I really would like our kids and us to do this all together. What do you think of an RV?"
It's a huge adventure for the kids
Their portable home works because of the set-up of the tour, according to Ryler. In tennis, men and women usually play at different locations. Pickleball has both genders on the same tours, in the same place.
"It's a huge adventure for the kids," he said, "but at the same time, they have their toys and beds and dogs. They love to invite people to see their RV home."
"They love being at the courts, but they also really love coming home. It's been a good balance so far," Megan added.
The kids are homeschooled through a public school
When it comes to schooling their children, Megan says they have found the best of both worlds.
"We homeschool them, and we've been doing it for a couple of years now. We started Lily in kindergarten with Florida Virtual School."
"I don't feel the responsibility of having to come up with the curriculum because it's given to us by and they have a teacher assigned to them. It's a public school system and they have Zoom calls with their teacher, about once every month," Megan said.
A typical week for the foursome includes a lot of structure, according to Megan.
"On Mondays and Tuesdays, we look to do our schoolwork. JR can normally do his work in about two to three hours for the week. Lillie's work is definitely a lot more now that she's in second grade."
They finish assignments on the travel days, so they're free to play Thursday through Sunday. The kids love the game and watch their parents play.
"In pickleball," explains Megan, "when we come to our chair and sit down to grab water, our kids can come over. Lily comes up with wisdom. It's like, 'Mom, you gotta hit it, you gotta hit it harder!'"
They just want the kids to have fun with sports
It's all about recreation at the end of the day. All the families get together, and the kids will play with anyone who has a paddle.
They are often asked if the kids will play tennis or pickleball when they are older. Megan defers to Ryler, whose tennis brought him from playing on an undefeated college team to a pro career that had him playing Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open.
"I started them with tennis. I'm trying to develop their athleticism. They've played basketball and some other sports," Ryler said. "I just want them to play sports and enjoy it like we do."
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