How pickleball is helping SoCal woman grieve after husband dies of rare form of leukemia

Pickleball grew in popularity during the pandemic, and the power of the sport - and its players - is changing one woman's life.
VALENCIA, Calif. (KABC) -- If there is one sport that benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's pickleball.

It's fast and it's competitive, but players say pickleball - which combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong - is much easier to learn.

Its fanbase is growing fast to the point that the Paseo Club in Valencia converted some of its tennis courts to pickleball courts.

Once the pandemic hit, players said the interest in the sport grew like wildfire.

What also grew was the sense of community, and it showed last weekend when players came together for a tragic loss.

"It was like someone came and turned our house upside down, shook it and left," said Monica Aguilar-Hicks of Santa Clarita.

Five years ago, Aguilar-Hicks' husband, Leo, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

"I never even heard of AML, acute myeloid leukemia," she said.

Her husband was told he needed an immediate bone marrow transplant to survive.

"My mom used to say something ... 'Out of everything bad, something good,'" Aguilar-Hicks said.

Leo made a promise, saying when he beats AML, he would pay it forward. Sadly, he died a year later.

"We have choices to crumble or to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix," Aguilar-Hicks said.

In honor of her husband, she and her playing partner held their first tournament to pay it forward.

They teamed up with Be The Match, which helps find donors for those in need of transplants.

Players took a DNA swab in hopes of finding a match to help someone who could eventually be on the same battle cord.

Organizers said if someone finds a match from the drive, it will be an amazing way to honor Leo.

"The worst thing that happened to our family was my husband passing away -- my children's father -- however, it would be such a disservice to him if that's where it ended," said Aguilar-Hicks.

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