- Racquetball courts can be hard to find in the Northwoods. But, two Northwoods men drive from Rhinelander to Merrill every week just to swing the racquet.
Richard Martin and Al Samz have been playing racquetball for 36 years. While they've seen the sport evolve, one thing hasn't changed.
"It is one of the highest calorie burning sports you can do. That is one of the great things about it. It is an agility sport, it's an endurance sport, it's a power sport and it's a control sport," said Richard Martin.
"It is running, stopping, moving, not so much for me now, but jumping to reach balls. It's just a coordination of all your muscles working together," said Al Samz.
The size and build of the racquet has developed with the sport.
"This is what they started out with 46 years ago. It wasn't even called a racquetball racquet at the time. It was called paddle racquet. The racquets and the strings have developed. As you can see, the change over time is tremendous - the skill, the power level that comes in here," said Martin.
Racquetball is a simple sport that requires a lot of athleticism. All you need is eye protection and a racquet with a wrist thong. The first person to get to 15 points - wins.
"It is similar to tennis. You get two serves. The first one, if it doesn't come back past the service line, is considered a fault, like in tennis but it's not in the box. The second serve has to land in the back 20 feet of the court," said Martin.
You can serve anywhere as long as you hit the front wall and hit the ball again before the second bounce.
Racquetball can seem like an intense sport from the other side of the glass.
"People are sometimes afraid of it. It is kind of extreme. Yes you can get hit. But, it's fast and it uses your reflexes," said Martin.
But, there is always the chance that you will be hit with the ball.
"Top pros can actually serve the ball at 200 mph, which is roughly twice as fast as a professional baseball player can pitch," said Martin.
It is easy to play and your skills are constantly improving.
"Finally the bug caught me. I knew as long as my body held up, I would play racquetball," said Samz.
More people in the US are playing racquetball. People have even adapted it to be played outdoors. There is also a push for racquetball to become an Olympic sport.
"The upcoming part of this whole sport is if kids get involved. I think anyone that tries it is really going to enjoy it. I've never met anyone who hasn't," said Martin.
If you are interested in learning more about racquetball, Riverside Athletic Club in Merrill offers leagues beginning in January. You do not need to be a member of the club to join. They welcome all levels of players.
|Story By: Jeanine Ilacqua