For some athletes, sports are all about the game itself, the rising thrills of success and the lows of defeat. For others, such as Densie Rice, the release of playing a sport, the lessons learned and the relationships formed through sports are what matters.

Rice has a unique perspective on what is important in life, as she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2015.

“One of the things I learned from cancer is that you learn what’s really important to you,” Rice said. “It’s the time you spend with people and it’s the difference you can make in their lives.”

Because she wouldn’t consider herself a natural-born athlete, Rice wasn’t expecting much when a friend introduced her to pickleball two years after her diagnosis. Like newcomers to any sport, it took Rice some time to develop her skills. After putting a line on her home the height of a pickleball net and seeking out all opportunities to play the game, Rice finally began to improve with the help of other competitors as well.

“It is just a fantastic group of supportive, understanding people, and they laughed right along with me,” she said.

Pickleball has quickly become an important part of Rice’s life, as she said the game helps her with stress relief, an important aspect of her recovery.

“When I play pickleball, I don’t think about anything else,” Rice said. “My kind of cancer, the highest reoccurrence is in five years and I’m four years out right now, so that’s really helped give me a positive attitude. I don’t even think about things like that when I play pickleball.”

As a member of the Lincoln pickleball club, Rice has made many friends through the sport and has enjoyed the chance to play it in the Cornhusker State Games. She was matched with a fellow intermediate-level partner, Joel Houston, through the pickleball club and after the duo won their first tournament together, they decided to give the 2017 State Games a shot.

Rice and Houston combined to win a bronze medal in mixed doubles last year, and Rice is excited at the chance to continue practicing her ever-improving pickleball skills.

“Last year when I played at the Cornhusker State Games, I was terribly nervous, but I’m getting better at it,” she said.

Rice will not only compete in mixed doubles this year, but also in female doubles, as she continues to seek out chances to play pickleball. Just a few years ago, Rice wouldn’t have dreamed she would dedicate so much time to a sport, but the friends she has made and the thrill of competition keep bringing her back for more.

Registration is currently open for the 2019 Cornhusker State Games. Featuring competition in 70 sports, participants can find more information and register online at our 2019 Sport Listing