Navratil, Merchant compete for Stop Alzheimer’s Now fundraiser

Navratil, Merchant compete for Stop Alzheimer’s Now fundraiser

DALLAS, TX - Though there aren’t any more professional pickleball events in 2023, a few pros are still finding ways to end the year with some friendly competition.

Zane Navratil and Altaf Merchant are leading a fundraiser in collaboration with Austin-based nonprofit Stop Alzheimer’s Now (SAN) to see who can raise the most money for Alzheimer’s research.

The contest also features experiential prizes for donors that go above and beyond, including free admission to a clinic led by Zane and Altaf in 2024, and the opportunity to partake in a pro-am match with both of them.

So far, the pair have raised over $37,000 since the month-long competition began Nov. 28.

Teaming up with a nonprofit for Alzheimer’s research has been a goal of Navratil’s since witnessing his grandmother battle the disease.

“Pretty much since I went into pro pickleball in 2020, I wanted to find one that I could give back to and use my fan base to support,” he shared.

He wanted to find an organization where his entire donation would go towards the cause and not be split between research efforts and organizational expenses.

When he met SAN founder Shaun McDuffee in early 2023, the conversation quickly turned to the nonprofit. Zane was interested in learning more, but he wanted to inspect the organization’s books before making a commitment.

The former auditor was impressed with what he found.

“There are zero expenses other than the ones required by law, which is great because when I give a dollar, I want to know that a dollar is actually going to the cause,” he said.

Navratil has been a SAN ambassador ever since and paved the way for other pickleball players like Merchant, Jayson Harris, and Hartland Jones to join the effort.

Having seen the ruthlessness of the disease affect his own father, Merchant reached out to McDuffee about getting involved in September.

Zane and Altaf’s fundraiser is just the latest step that SAN has taken with the pickleball community.

McDuffee discovered pickleball in 2021, eight years after he founded SAN alongside his wife Kristin.

For much of those first eight years, he focused on projects like walking over 1,000 miles across 17 states to raise awareness about the disease.

Naturally, he fell in love with the sport, and he saw a potential vessel through which SAN’s impact could grow.

“Rotary clubs are credited with helping cure polio because it was a bunch of business owners who got together and then these clubs started raising money for it,” he explained. “I thought, ‘Man, how cool would it be if pickleball could be associated with curing Alzheimer’s?’”

McDuffee has been working to bring that idea closer to reality over the past year.

“I started connecting the dots in 2022 and realized, ‘Man, this is a perfect fit,’” he said.

He began networking with players and figures in the picklesphere while attending different events and tournaments in 2023, and he’s grateful that he keeps finding individuals across the sport who continue to be invested in Stop Alzheimer’s Now.

“I just think it shows that this sport is more than just a sport,” he said. “It’s a community of people that care.”

To fully immerse himself in the giving spirit of the holidays, McDuffee will also match the total amount of money that is donated to Zane and Altaf.

The Year-End Big Give runs through Dec. 28.

Click here to can learn more about Stop Alzheimer’s Now.