So, we left off at the part where I discover Racquetball, and the fact that this is the only thing I find myself truly interested in and passionate about at that time in my life.
I began playing competitively almost right away, missing that aspect of wrestling. There was no losing weight to play racquetball, which was a huge bonus! The brief time I had to do that was miserable, and I can’t imagine how rough that would have been subjecting my high school and college years to that practice.
The problem I quickly discovered in Racquetball was, I was on my own. My Dad had been a great wrestler in high school and beyond, and then went on to coach as well, but he didn’t play racquetball. My uncle introduced me to the game, but did not play tournaments or anything like that. I was entering uncharted waters; I didn’t have a coach or any real lead to follow for quite a while. As a 16 year old kid, I was tossed into the mix against adults, and was left to navigate this myself. I didn’t do a great job of that, and I was quickly hanging out with kind of a rough crowd that were doing very “adult” things I was not equipped to deal with. I went far down this path at first, before a wake up call got me to step away from that group and go a different path.
I attended a year of community college and then took a year off. After that, I went to NAU for a year, but was doing it with no real purpose and accruing a fair amount of student loan debt to do it. I was also the best player in the small town of Flagstaff, AZ and so this was not helping to elevate my game either. At this stage I was a high “A” level player, which means one more (large) step up and I am in the Open division in tournaments. This is the best of the best, aside from the Pro’s, which is what i had my sites set on. I left school, moved back to Phoenix, and got a job at a health club where the best players in Phoenix played. Any time I wasn’t on the clock, I was on the court. It lifted my game to the next level, and I was as ready as I was going to get; I threw my proverbial hat in to the ring at my first Pro tournament in Las Vegas.
The Pro draw was the Top 32 Pros, and everyone else had to qualify into the open 32 spots in the round of 64. I won my first match, and then a second, barely. I was down 2 games to 1, and 10-4 in a game it 11 before the other guy choked and I came back to win. I was one match away, when I ran into a guy named Adam Karp who smoked me. He went on to make the quarter finals of the Pro Draw that weekend, which eventually made me feel better about that loss. Either way, I was hooked. I had made it to the top of the mountain, and I had no plans to ever look back. I committed to playing as many Pro tournaments that season, and by the next would be full time. It was an expensive endeavor, and I was going to need some help.
I took a job as the Racquetball Pro at the Village Racquet & Health Club in Phoenix, and scrounged out a living teaching lessons and running leagues. It gave me the flexibility to travel and play on the Tour full time, and I also was surrounded by successful business people who played racquetball in my leagues. With the help of the VP of Paine Webber, we set up a sponsorship program for me that allowed anyone to contribute to my “cause” of playing on the Tour. It was a write off for them, and I got to go back to eating something other than Top Ramen.
As I progressed on the Tour, I hit my peak at about age 28. I didn’t know that at the time of course, but again, hindsight is 20/20. In fact, my best weekend ever was Labor Day weekend, 1998. I made the Round of 16 in the Pro draw in Stockton, CA and had a very respectable showing against the #1 player in the world at that time. I flew home early Saturday morning and played in a local tournament in Phoenix where I beat a tough player in the finals to win it. Grand total for my efforts that weekend: $800. That’s right…eight hundred dollars. It would be the most I ever earned on a racquetball court in one weekend.
Unbeknownst to me, everything after that weekend would be a downhill slide. It was a slow, painful death…the death of my “plan” that had taken the place of the one I had early on in life. I was burned out, but it took quite a while to realize it. I had committed to this sport as my life not too long after my wrestling injury in high school, and yet I had never planned for my life after. I made it into the Top 20 in the world, but was unhappy and burnt to a crisp at that point. And worst of all, and I was terrified of this fact, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
I took the summer off before the start of the 2000-2001 season. I thought that a break would renew my passion for the game. I was wrong. I went to New Orleans to start the season and had a mediocre showing. I skipped the next one, and went to a few others, going through the motions. I had a full blown meltdown in Chicago, which is a crazy story in and of itself, and I was done. I retired on the spot, after walking off the court directly to the hotel and then to the airport without ever changing out of my sweaty playing clothes. I called my Dad to pick me up from the airport, and I cried the whole way home, finally letting go of all the pent up frustration of the recent past and the fear of the future in one blithering tearful mess of a session. My Dad listened, and as he dropped me off at home, all he said was “You’ll figure it out”. As I watched him drive away, it occurred to me that I didn’t believe him.
My ego and my identity were so tied up in DARRINSCHENCKPRORACQUETBALLPLAYER that I had no idea how to be anyone else. I wandered aimlessly for a while; different jobs and different career paths. I tried to play a tournament or two now and then, but my heart was never in it. Like many athletes, I re-retired a bunch of times, not wanting to let go but unable to replace the life I had before.
When I look back at this phase of my life now, it is with mixed feelings. First and foremost, I am proud of what I accomplished. I set an audacious goal, got a late start, and still made it. I never got into the sport thinking it was going to make me rich, but rather I would discover who I am and what I was capable of. I traveled the country, made friendships that will last a lifetime, and experienced things most only read about or dream of. I suffered, I wallowed, I was ungrateful at times, and I made myself miserable in a time when I should have been living my best life. These are the regrets, and things I learned from this phase of my life.
Part three will bring you up to speed on where I am now, and how I got from the court to here. If you are still reading this far…thank you!