Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Comeback (or How I Survived the Ibuprofen Invitational)

Racquetball is a great sport. One of the things that makes it so is that it can be played at any level from a novice to a professional and the participants can get a good workout and have fun as long as both players are at the same relative ability level. Unlike tennis, where beginners may have trouble sustaining any kind of a rally, anyone with a modicum of hand-eye coordination can get their racquet on the ball and advance it to the front wall. But the sport really shines as a conditioning tool when played by more advanced players. It calls for sudden bursts and quick reactions, all contained in periods of intense effort with recovery built in. It's "doing intervals" without "doing intervals."!

Back in the early 80s, I lived racquetball. I was on the court for two hours every weekday, and spent lots of weekends playing in tournaments. Unfortunately for me, I played my best racquetball when I wasn't in a tournament. My biggest disappointment came in 1983 while I was stationed at Osan Air Base in Korea with the USAF. I was playing in a tournament that sent the two-finalist to the All-Korea tournament. In my semi-final, we had split the first two games and I was up 10-6 in the tie-breaker. I only needed one point to make that final but it didn't happened. I wouldn't use the word "choke" but....ok...I choked! I went back to my room, threw my racquets in the closet, and didn't play again for around 15 years. I turned to running instead and started collecting 10K t-shirts.

Fast forward to 2002 or 2003. Some guys in the office were playing racquetball at lunch and I decided to give it another try. One thing I noticed right away was the racquet technology had changed big time. My little Ektelon 250G looked puny compared to the oversized racquets being used today. So I bought a new racquet and started playing 2-3 times a week. I didn't come close to regaining my old form but I was having fun and getting some exercise. But that all came to a screeching halt when I injured my hip last fall. I would play a match but then when I got out of my car to walk to the office I would get a "stop you dead in your tracks and have you call for your mama" spasm in my right hip. It was diagnosed as a strained hip flexor (Psoas) and I was told the only cure was rest. I waited a couple months and tried again but all I did was set my recovery back to square one.

So yesterday was the big comeback. I played one of my old regular opponents and split a couple of games. When I got back to the office, I had a snack that included 800mg of Motrin. I made of point of getting up from my desk often and walking around so that I wouldn't stiffen up. This morning it feels fine and I'm ready to put regular racquetball back in the fitness mix. I also think that the kind of training I'm now doing, the intervals in particular, are going to help my game immensely. The pattern that I normally followed playing this one opponent was that I would win the first game big, then the second game would be close with the other guy winning about half the time, followed by a third game that I usually lost. His advantage over me is quickness and court coverage. My strengths are a good serve and tactics--knowing when to hit a defensive shot rather than go for a kill. But my achilles heal has always been my lack of ability to sustain a high level of play over three games. Hopefully that is about to improve.

Bottom line--if you have never tried racquetball you should give it a shot!!

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