Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 218 - Racquetball

I have never played racquetball. This indoor game involving a room that is essentially a concrete cube, racquets, and a red rubber ball has always been a point of curiosity for me, but I never sought to give it a try at any point in my life. With my exposure to the sport limited to random, uncommon observation of a game being played on television or in movies, I knew next to nothing about the rules of the game, the technique required to play successfully, and even where one could play it. In fact, I had only seen one racquetball court in my life when I wandered off into a darkened area of a college campus I was visiting as a child. Basically, racquetball was a mystery to me, yet I wanted to learn more about the sport. As a result, I decided playing racquetball for the first time was an event I would pursue during my “I have never...” year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that happen, but I was going to do my best to make the experience a reality.

As luck would have it, a recent passing conversation with my Brother, Abe, resulted in me bringing up the idea of playing racquetball for the first time. The very mention of the sport was enough to send Abe into an excited state. “Oh, dude!” he exclaimed as I told him I intended to try the game at some point during the winter. In response, I asked Abe if he had played racquetball before, to which he replied, “Yes. YES! It’s awesome, man! We are going to make this happen…”

His enthusiasm forced a smile onto my face as I sought to clarify his experience with the sport. Unbeknownst to me, Abe had been playing racquetball on and off in recent years as time permitted. Despite our close relationship and relatively frequent interaction, that fact had somehow eluded me, which was surprising but exciting at the same time. As a result of our mutual discoveries, the two of us promptly checked our calendars and narrowed in on some dates to get together for a game. Eventually, that resulted in plans to head to Abe’s local workout facility this evening to take on my first ever experience with racquetball. I still didn’t know what to expect from the sport, but I knew one thing; I was going to give it everything I had to give.

"Total sensory deprivation"
Abe and I arrived at the health club of choice, the Sun Prairie Athletic Club, around 8:00 pm tonight in an effort to squeeze in a few games of racquetball following the facility’s weekly tournament club games. As we entered the hallway containing the racquetball courts, echoes of rubber balls slamming into concrete, shoes squeaking on wooden floors, and grunts from physical effort filled the air. Although not entirely unexpected, the environment and the sounds contained within it were a bit strange to me, which caused me to make a passing remark to Abe about the starkness of the space. In response, Abe shot me a grin and offered some perspective, “Oh yeah, man. Wait until we get on the court. It’s total sensory deprivation... Nothing but white walls, a wood floor, and the sounds of us playing the game!”

Pretty in pink (Thanks, Missy!)
The undertone of his enthusiasm was hard to deny, which spurred me into action changing footwear and peel off the layers of clothes over my athletic shorts and t-shirt. As I put the last of my belongings in my bag and shoved it under a nearby bench, Abe handed me my racquet and eye protection before ducking through the usually small doorway of a nearby racquetball court. “This is our court!” he said as he walked into the space and waved me in. On cue, I lowered my head and stepped into the racquetball court. As I entered my eyes took a moment to adjust to the blank, white space lit by a series of overhead lights. On the otherwise empty wood floor, a few red lines separated areas of space, but the room was otherwise vacant. “So, this is it?” I said inquisitively. “This is it,” Abe said in reply as he pulled a red rubber ball from his pocket. “Are you ready to play?” he asked with a hint of anticipation. “Ready?” I replied, “You better believe I’m ready.”

In response to my remark, Abe proceeded to explain the rules of the game and provide a few pointers on technique. I was surprised to learn how simple and straightforward the game of racquetball was, and the concept of using the walls of the court freely to deliver the ball to the object wall during the game immediately set my creative mind to work. Although Abe initially recommended we warm up by simply hitting the ball back and forth, my eagerness to gain the full experience caused me to dismiss his remarks. “Nope. We’re going full out. I want the real thing,” I said twirling hot racquet in my hand. Abe offered a look of hesitance at my request as he shot me a reply. “Alright, if you want the real thing, we’ll do the real thing.”

To demonstrate the start of the game, Abe took to a box painted onto the floor and explained the process of starting a game. Continuing, he rehashed some of the rules he had laid our minutes earlier and confirmed I was ready to play. I gave him a quick nod of my head as I prepared my feet for action, which caused Abe to look toward the back wall of the room. Then with a bounce of the ball and a swing of his racquet, the ball slammed into the back wall and flung back toward my position. Taking a few short steps to return the ball to the back wall, I wound up and swiftly flung my racquet forward. Almost immediately the whir of the racquet moving through the air transitioned to the sound of the tightly wound racquet strings crashing into the ball. As I watched the small red sphere carry back to the rear wall and return toward Abe’s position, I broke out in a smile. I was officially playing racquetball.

"Don't worry you won't break it if you hit the wall," he said

Over the next hour Abe and I worked through a series of games that fell just short of two full sets of play. Although Abe beat me soundly during each game we played, I was able to get points on the board consistently, and by the end of the night I was doing well at making him work to maintain his lead. From the first moments of play to the final serve of the night, Abe and I played hard and made the most of the event, which was exactly what I had hoped to encounter with my first experience playing racquetball. As an added benefit, the physical demands and constant motion of the game were more than I expected, which left me feeling an odd sense of accomplishment as the night drew to a close.

Considering most of my experiences with any sort of strenuous activity usually result in me despising the workout unequivocally, that takeaway made me realize racquetball is one of the rare forms of exercise that actually makes me feel good about working myself until I’m sweaty, out of breath, and sore for days. As a result, I know it is likely racquetball will be something I pursue once my “I have never...” year draws to a close. After all, if it helps me keep in shape and gives me a chance to share some laughs and score some points against my Brother, I’m all for it. Something tells me Abe shares that perspective, which means he and I we will probably find ourselves on the racquetball court again in the future. I know it will be equally incredible when that day comes; especially when I leave with a victory under my belt.

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