John and Leslie Daniel know firsthand the fragility of life and the power of healing in relationships. As ambassadors for inclusivity and healthy living, they have created a beautiful space where people can thrive in an environment of community and wellness. 

John Daniel arrived in Memphis in 2000, unaware of what would come. “I came to Memphis in 2000 with my first wife, who died in 2011 of cancer.” Shortly after that, he met Leslie, and they were married in June 2014. Their celebration was short-lived. “My heart failed in September 2014. I lived on a left ventricular assist device for a year and received a transplant in September 2015.” Leslie was not immune from the unpredictability of life either, and just a few years later, she emerged from her health crisis as a breast cancer survivor. 

“We appreciate the value of life and want to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community.” 

They started playing pickleball in May of 2020 with neighbors at the Artesian, their condo community in downtown Memphis, who had adapted their tennis courts into two pickleball courts. “It was a way to connect and stay active as the pandemic was still impacting lives. 

“During the hot days of Memphis summer, it was challenging to play outdoors.” Driven by their passion and vision to create something engaging and fun that connected people and contributed to a healthy community, they drafted a plan to build an indoor court. The opportunity came after a few months of real estate shopping when they learned that the owners of Malco Plaza in Bartlett were looking for someone to convert their closed theater into a pickleball facility. After some research, they discovered several movie theater conversions into pickleball clubs happening in other parts of the country. “Movie theaters are closing, but because of sloped floors and odd space configurations, they are difficult to reuse. Pickleball is one option that works.” 

Bluff City Pickleball opened in March 2024. “We have had an enthusiastic welcome from the pickleball community. We have a partnership with Picklemania, a non-profit which uses pickleball to teach economically disadvantaged kids life skills in schools.” The space offers courts for playing pickleball, conference rooms where people can meet, work, or have team-building exercises, and a cafe where everyone can hang out and get to know each other off the court. 

“The intention of the space is to bring people together,” states Leslie. “It is encouraging to see so many ethnicities, ages, races, sizes, and experience backgrounds in the facility.” For John and Leslie, the mission is beyond the game. Pickleball is the thing that brings people together; the goal is to find commonality amongst diversity. 

“Pickleball is not just about winning points. It’s about winning in life by staying active and engaging with others. We appreciate the value of life and want to contribute to the health and well-being of the community. The club is part of that vision to live a meaningful life that makes a difference.” 

They plan to offer scholarships to underserved children and host youth summer camps for children ages 8-14 in June and July. The best way to get involved is to attend one of the beginner clinics. Go to to register. 

By Amanda Tompkins 

Photo by Brooke Simpson