I was speaking with someone yesterday about racquetball stuff, and it dawned on me that this is the weekend is the anniversary of what turned out to be the absolute pinnacle of my racquetball career. Being a Professional Racquetball Player was the only thing I was ever sure of in my younger life, and I devoted a massive amount of time to that pursuit. Much like a mountain trek, there were stages to the process. I did not set out to proverbially hike Mount Everest in one day, but rather step by step. Just like the prep work to get ready to ascend Everest takes about 60 days, this journey of mine spanned a long time.
I had what I think to be a different approach to this whole thing; I played my first tournament ever and decided that I would be a Pro some day. I was an absolute beginner, no idea how to play the game, but I didn’t worry about details like that. I had set my mind to it, and I was going to make it or die trying. There are about 300 bodies scattered around Everest from people who made that same statement. While my pursuit was never life threatening, I do feel like the parallels are similar to an ascent on Everest.
Each of the bases on the map above represent a stage in the process. I sought help from everywhere I could get it, preparing both on and off the court as much as possible for my journey. I acclimated to the altitude as I climbed the ranks, getting my butt kicked for a bit until I raised my game enough to breath that type of air easily. Before getting truly comfortable, I would move on. I lived like the climber does, ever watchful of the horizon, knowing full well there is a window of time when this peak experience could happen, and that there are no guarantees. I stockpiled the things I would need, traveled light, and slowly learned the terrain at the highest levels.
When it came time to the final ascent, playing on the Pro Tour, I wasn’t ready. I had conquered (to some degree) the last base camp I had…my home state. I was one of the best players in AZ at that time, and although winning is a learned skill that needs to be practiced and developed over time, I knew that I was not going to continue to improve being the best player around. Time to find new territory to explore. So, unaware of what I was really heading into, I packed up my stuff and started the climb. I struggled, mightily at first. The climb was steeper than anything I had faced, the tools I brought with me, insufficient. I forged on, unsure if I would make it, knowing I had to try. I had not come this far to turn around now.
I made friends along the way, many who were better equipped and more experienced than I. I learned from them, sharpened my skills, made progress. They showed me short cuts, and refined my approach. I made more progress. Soon, the pinnacle I had sought for so many years was within sight. To be clear, my goal was never to be number 1, I didn’t think I had it in me. I was starting late, didn’t have the physical attributes typical of others who had ruled this world. But I thought I could make it to the Top 20, and that was my goal. After three years on the Pro Tour, and after a complete breakdown and rebuild of my game, I was within striking distance of the target.
Labor Day Weekend, 1997…Stockton, CA. I was ranked #18 at this point, and was playing was well as I was ever going to. I didn’t know that at the time of course, but no one does. Hindsight is 20/20. The records of the Pro Tour are patchy at best, and for whatever reason this particular event isn’t even on my IRT Tour records. But then again, I am not 119 years old, nor am I left-handed, so take that for what it is…
I warmed up to play my match against Dan Llacera at 2PM on Friday afternoon. I was hitting with Dan Fowler, who was also getting ready to play his match. I was so zoned in, see the ball in slow motion. I was ready to finally beat Llacera and move on to the next round. Match time came, and Llacera was no where to be found; something happened and he never made it to CA that weekend. I moved on by forfeit. My next match was against world #1 at the time, Cliff Swain. I played really well against Cliff, neutralizing his oppressive drive serves and hanging in the rallies with him for the most part. In games to 11 points, I lost 11-8, then won 11-9, lost 11-2, and lost 11-7. A respectable showing against one of the best ever. I had to referee the next match, and finished my day at the racquetball club around 11PM.
The next morning I begged a ride out of Greg Freeze, a local CA tournament player, and was off to the airport to fly home and play a tournament here in Phoenix. I landed around 10AM, got picked up at the airport and went straight to the local club in PHX to play a match. I won that one, ate lunch, and played again in the afternoon, winning again. On Sunday at 1PM, I faced Jimmy Floyd in the finals and managed to win in a close match. A phenomenal weekend, and unbeknownst to me, the beginning of the end. It was a slow but steady descent from this point, never reaching this rarefied air again.
For my efforts that weekend, I made $300 for my 2nd round loss to Cliff, and I won $500 for winning the tournament in Phoenix. That’s right…$800 was the most money I ever made in one weekend as a Pro Racquetball Player. That was my Everest. I hit a level of play this weekend, twenty-two years ago, never to be repeated. I had flashes of this level at other times, but I look back at this particular weekend as the absolute peak of my skills on the court. This is when I planted my flag on the highest peak possible (for me).
If you read this and think that my career was underwhelming, I would disagree. My results may have been underwhelming compared to those ranked above me, but this was MY big time, and that is what matters. NEVER measure your goals and success by what others think. To quote Pro Golfer Johnny Miller “A man should not be measured by what he accomplishes, but rather what he overcomes.” I set my sights high, I worked as hard as I possibly could have on and off the court, and I achieved something that most people laughed at the audacity of when I told them what I was setting out to do. There is satisfaction in that result that only those who have also traveled that far up the mountain will ever know.
Regardless of what your chosen endeavor is, aim high and outwork everyone along the way. Ignore those trying to talk you out of it, they are just worried about being left behind. Keep a big picture view, but micromanage every day on the basis of what helps you get to the top of the mountain. And based on the sketchy web results of my own past, take notes and pictures along the way!
I wish you luck in your endeavors.