FROM PAGEANTS TO
This former Miss New Mexico uses her platform to shine a light on mental health.
AT 22 YEARS OLD, Kamryn Blackwood vowed to never set foot on a court again. The former captain of the Nova Southeastern University tennis team in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was burned out on tennis. “There was just so much pressure and anxiety that [I] had to win all the time. It was, ‘You need to win for money’; ‘You need to win for your scholarship,’” Blackwood, now 30, recalls.
And so, redirecting her focus, Blackwood entered, and won, a local beauty pageant in her home state. She was named Miss New Mexico, and competed in the Miss USA pageant. Suddenly, she was given an all-new type of exposure, one that helped launch an exciting career in acting and modeling. So she said goodbye to racket sports.
Or so she thought. Then, just a couple of years ago, in 2020, she heard from one of her former tennis coaches, Jeremy Dyche. Dyche owns Pickleball & Racquet Oasis (PRO Sports), a teaching and tournament program in Albuquerque; interest in pickleball was starting to surge, and with it, a need for instructors. He asked Blackwood if she’d help coach pickleball. Reluctantly, she agreed.
It was not love at first dink. Blackwood laughs recalling the time she helped run a pickleball clinic and mistakenly referred to
the kitchen as “the sink” the whole time. But her interest was piqued, especially when she met Texas-based teaching pro Amy Yarbrough, who helped Blackwood see pickleball as something more than a derivative of tennis. Blackwood remembers, “She said, ‘It’s just a different game, and once you learn it, you’re going to fall in love with it.’”
BUILDING MENTAL STRENGTH
Blackwood did eventually fall in love with pickleball, so much so that she went pro. In October 2021 she played in the Texas Open against superstar Lea Jansen. Blackwood lost the first match but rallied and won the second. “That was the moment when I thought, I can do this,” she says.
More important, Blackwood was increasingly able to harness something that had been absent in the waning days of her collegiate tennis career—belief in herself. “Now, when I step onto the [pickleball] court, I feel like I can be successful, when before, I was just full of all this self-doubt,” she reveals.
KEYS TO IMPROVEMENT
Once Blackwood decided to pursue pickleball seriously, she made quick progress. Here are her bits of wisdom:
“I got way too many opinions from too many people who wanted me to play like them.”
FINE-TUNE THE BASICS
“Have a few core shots you can do with your eyes closed.”
FIND YOUR GAME
“You don’t want to throw away your strengths to build up your weaknesses.”
It’s something Blackwood would like to help other pickleball players embrace. “I hope I can make a bigger impact as an advocate for mental health,” says Blackwood, who grew up in a household with “addiction and alcoholism and rehab and abuse.” She saw a lot of women on the Miss USA circuit equate self-worth with pageant results and Blackwood herself struggled with an eating disorder. Therapy now helps her cope, something she’s been open about on Instagram (@kamrynblackwood), where she has amassed more than 15,000 followers. She knows other pickleball players are grappling with their own challenges—and she’d like to destigmatize that: “It’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to ask for help.”
Blackwood only works with brands that agree to donate to causes related to mental health. And she hopes to see pickleball tournaments have mental health counselors and sports psychologists on-site, just as they have medics for physical injuries. “If your arms hurt, you should get help; if your brain is hurt, you should be afforded the same help,” she explains. “That’s something I’d love to bring to the game.”
CHANNEL YOUR ANXIETY
“You should always have some nerves going into a match.”
ESTABLISH BREATHING PATTERNS
“If you don’t, you get tighter and tighter, and the next thing you know, you’re out of breath.”
CELEBRATE MORE THAN THE SCORE
“Know what you can do, and what you have control over. Win or lose, to me that’s successful.”