HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Pro pickleball returns to the northern suburbs this week for the APP Chicago Open in Highland Park.
More than 850 of the sport’s top pros as well as amateurs will compete for gold medals and prize money –including the husband-and-wife duo of Ryler DeHeart and Megan Fudge. The pair started playing pickleball professionally about a year and a half ago, and when they roll up to tournaments, their whole life comes too.
“This is our home right here. We come back to our RV life,” Fudge said.
Yes, the RV life. The two travel from tournament to tournament in their mobile home along with their two kids Lily and JR and two dogs.
“It was kind of Megan’s idea to begin with, and I was against it for a while, but we had friends that had one, and we both realized we could live that life if we needed to,” DeHeart said.
“For us to keep coming home, pack up and leave again every week it felt like it was Groundhog Day,” Fudge said. “So now we get to have our home on the road with us, and the kids feel more stable and coming home where we are parked, it feels like we are coming home to something we trust.”
This week’s pit stop at the APP Chicago Open is a return to the state where the couple met. Both played tennis at the University of Illinois. DeHeart was part of the 2003 National Champions, who are holding a reunion this weekend in Chicago, though DeHeart’s pickleball career will likely keep him from attending.
“This is my thing right now,” he said. “Obviously it was an amazing time at Illinois, but life goes on.”
And as much time as Megan and Ryler spend together traveling to tournaments, they decided when it came to on the court, some time apart could help.
“This year we actually had a pickleball break-up, so we haven’t been competing together as much,” Fudge said. “We play some events together, New Jersey will be one we play together again, but we’ve only had to play [against] each other twice so far, so it’s been good not to take too much heat back to the RV.”
“It was tough, it was probably tougher on me than on her,” DeHeart said. “I think it was for the best that we don’t play every tournament together. We’ll still play some together. But just for the marriage it can be hard to play every week together. She kind of broke up with me so that was tough, but I still try to give her some crap sometimes and beat her when I can. I tell her if she ever wants to come back, I’m open.”
A house—or in this case RV—divided but one that still stands outs in the fast-growing world of pickleball.
The APP Chicago Open continues all weekend at Danny Cunniff Park with pro and amateur events leading up to Championship Sunday.
Admission is $15 per day for spectators.