Up Against #1 Anna Leigh Waters on Sunday, Then Retires from the Singles Arena
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Lea Jansen, a 31-year-old professional pickleball player who has made a significant impact in the sport, is preparing for a pivotal moment in her career. Currently holding the #2 spot in Women’s Singles worldwide, Jansen is set to face the #1 pro pickleball player, Anna Leigh Waters, in her last singles tournament this weekend. This highly anticipated match is not only a testament to Jansen’s resilience, dedication, and love for the game, but also a defining moment in her career.
Jansen’s athletic journey began in Spokane, Washington, where she started playing tennis at the age of 8. She quickly ascended the ranks, becoming the highest-ranked player in every age group in the Pacific Northwest. Her talent led her to a two-year tenure at Washington State University, where she played at the collegiate level. After earning her degree in accounting and an MBA in healthcare management, Jansen made the decision to turn professional in pickleball in 2022.
The catalyst for her transition to pickleball was Tyson McGuffin, a childhood friend whose success in the sport intrigued Jansen. She was immediately captivated by the game and embarked on a full-time touring career in 2021. Her relocation to Austin provided her with the opportunity to train with other professional pickleball players, further enhancing her skills.
Jansen’s rise to pickleball prominence is not solely due to her innate talent and commitment to the sport. She attributes a significant part of her success to her coach, Jim Costello, and his innovative Neuro-Fit Systems program. This unique approach, which strengthens the neural connections between the brain’s left and right hemispheres, has been instrumental in enhancing her mental performance. Jansen also collaborates with a mental coach, integrating principles of exercise physiology and brain plasticity science.
Despite her success, Jansen’s journey has not been without challenges. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 23, she must monitor her blood sugar levels multiple times a day, even more so on match days, and administer insulin shots. She’s currently planning to transition to an insulin pump for easier management during play. However, her condition has not deterred her from pursuing her passion. Instead, it has sparked another interest: creating and experimenting with sugar-free culinary delights.
Away from the pickleball court, Jansen cherishes time with her canine companions, Cookie and Bentley, and immerses herself in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest, enjoying activities like skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing. She recently returned to Spokane from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and relishes the chance to reconnect with childhood friends through pickleball.
As Jansen prepares to face Anna Leigh Waters in her last singles tournament, the pickleball community watches with bated breath. This match is not just a competition between two top-tier players, but a testament to Jansen’s journey, filled with perseverance and determination. Regardless of the outcome, Jansen’s story serves as an inspiration for those grappling with their own life challenges, underscoring the message that with grit, dedication, and a passion for what you do, achieving your dreams is possible.
Her matches have been a thrilling spectacle, filled with moments of intense competition, remarkable skill, and consistent medal stand appearances. Her presence on the court will be deeply missed, but the memories of her dynamic performances will continue to inspire and entertain. As we bid farewell to Jansen in the singles arena, we look forward to seeing what the next chapter of her pickleball career holds!