Gerardo Franco Overcomes Major Setbacks to Become Pro

RYDF is excited to share Gerardo Franco Gonzalez’s inspirational story.   Gerardo is 19 years old and is currently ranked #7 by the World Racquetball Tour (WRT). He was also awarded the WRT Sportsmanship Award in the 2016-2017 season.

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Born in Mexico, Gerardo began playing at a very young age and fell in love with the sport. Not long after taking up racquetball, he began entering tournaments, eventually winning titles at the state, national, and junior world level.

In May 2012 Gerardo faced a life changing challenge. During a match, Gerardo fell through a back wall glass door. The horrific accident left both arms badly cut with multiple deep incisions. He severely damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. He also suffered significant blood loss, and arrived at the hospital in a life-threatening state. After more than 10 hours of surgery, doctors were able to save his arms, even though amputation was more likely to save his life.

Gerardo recalls not being completely aware of what had just happened to him. His only initial thought was that he would not be able to play the next two tournaments Despite his unstable condition and the physicians’ uncertain prognosis Gerardo always believed he’d go back on court and play. “Why can’t I play again?” he said. “If this is what I love the most.  It’s not like I´m dead. I am in one piece and I still have my arms. Of course I can!”

Gerardo was in bed for a week with casts on both arms before he began walking. For a long time, he was unable to move his arms, and normal day would require a lot of patience. Slowly, day by day, he started working and finger by finger, he learnt how to grab a racquet.

Rehab has been challenging. Doctors insisted Gerardo had more surgery to reduce the chances of problems later in life. The additional operations slowed his recovery but helped his long-term mobility. He still deals with sensory and mobility issues, particularly in his left arm and hand. Gerardo has significant adherences (fibrosis) in the wrist and finger extensors, limiting flexion movements for a couple of fingers, excluding the thumb.  He also experiences numbness in several parts of the arm, forearms, wrist, and fingers.

Despite sometimes feeling helpless, he persevered and returned to school for the last two weeks of classes. With the unconditional support of his mom and sisters, and with the help and collaboration of his friends at school, Gerardo made it through the school year.

One of positive outcomes from Gerardo’s accident was the response from the racquetball community. For example, the San Luis Potosí State Racquetball Association and some coaches helped to organize several fundraising tournaments to help pay for his second surgery.

Over time, Gerardo fought his way back onto the court. Seven months after his accident., he won the Handicap Open Division on December along with Daniel De La Rosa.  Three months later in February 2013, he qualified for the Olimpiada Nacional (Mexican Junior National Event that includes all sports) held in Guadalajara and won a medal. Two years later, Gerardo turned professional and earned a semifinal spot in his first outing at the WRT pro stop in Colombia. From there, he joined Team Gearbox and went on Tour to many tournaments in Mexico and the US, including the 2015 US Open Championships.

Gerardo had an additional surgery in March of this year. During the procedure, the surgeon found a retracted nerve which cut during the accident. They grafted a nerve to the end and removed adhesions (scar tissue) developed since the accident.  These repairs allows him to open his hand. Today, he still experiences numbness in his thumb, index, and ring finger. His right thumb has no flexion movement, and he does not have full extension of his left elbow.

Gerardo likely faces at least one more surgery for his left arm but for now is holding off.  He feels very good about his condition, is capable of doing his basic activities with no limitations in his right arm.

He quickly went back on court, and in July he participated in the 2016 Olimpiada Nacional in Tijuana, winning a silver medal.

Last year, Gerardo graduated from high school before taking a sabbatical year from school which has allowed him to play fulltime on tour and learn a new language (Portuguese). He’s applying to the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon to study aeronautical engineering this fall. He’s been awarded with a sports scholarship that the university grants to notable athletes, allowing him to study and compete simultaneously.

Throughout his considerable struggles Gerardo grateful to those who’ve helped him overcome many obstacles. “I am not doing this on my own,” he said. “Everything I have done and I am doing right now is a sum of efforts. My mom and sisters have always been there for me, and I share my achievements with all the people who helped organize the fundraising tournaments, those who played them, and everyone who bought a T-shirt and supported my cause. They are now part of the success I have achieved.”


En esta edición del boletín de RYDF presentaremos la historia de Gerardo Franco González una de las jóvenes promesas del raquetbol quien actualmente se encuentra en la posición número 7 del ranking del World Racquetball Tour (WRT), galardonado con el premio al Espíritu deportivo o Deportividad (Sportsmanship Award) en 2016 y 2017 por el WRT.

Gerardo Franco nacido en México el 24 de Julio de 1998, empezó desde muy temprana edad a desarrollar una gran pasión por el raquetbol ha sido campeón nacional y mundial a lo largo de diferentes divisiones juveniles, sufrió un lamentable accidente en mayo de 2012 cuando atravesó una puerta de cristal mientras jugaba con sus amigos, con 13 años de edad  sobrellevo una situación crítica, en sus brazos tenía cortadas profundas que penetraron hasta sus tejidos blandos (músculos, tendones, arterias, venas, ligamentos), llego al hospital con algunas dificultades debido al gran volumen sanguíneo que había perdido desde el incidente y durante el trayecto, en ese momento se sometió a una complicada cirugía que duro más de 10 horas y que afortunadamente le salvo sus brazos de una amputación.

Nos cuenta, que en ese momento aún no comprendía la magnitud de lo que estaba viviendo, lo único en lo que podía pensar era en que no podría jugar los siguientes 2 torneos, a pesar del pronóstico reservado y con posibles complicaciones emitido por los médicos, él se dijo a sí mismo que regresaría a jugar. En sus palabras comento “¿Por qué no voy a jugar? Si es lo que más me gusta… no estoy muerto ni me amputaron el brazo izquierdo. ¡Por supuesto que puedo!

Estuvo una semana en cama y después empezó a caminar pero sin la funcionalidad de sus brazos puesto que estaba enyesados. Un día normal era levantarse y ser muy paciente, la impotencia generada por la limitación en ese momento era desesperante, sin embargo persevero, regreso a la escuela para las 2 últimas semanas de clases, entendían su situación y junto con el apoyo de su madre, sus hermanas y sus amigos termino los proyectos y tareas para finalizar el año escolar.

Su rehabilitación empezó algo tarde, las cosas se pusieron difíciles en casa pero afortunadamente con un mes de terapia para el brazo derecho tuvo grandes avances, a pesar de que recién ocurrió el accidente los médicos le comentaron que mientras más pronto se realizara la segunda cirugía mejor pronóstico tendría. Esto le genero algunas secuelas como consecuencia de la fibrosis generada en los tendones imposibilitando la extensión de los dedos así como pérdidas de sensibilidad importantes desde el codo hasta la mano.

Se organizaron varios torneos para financiar la segunda cirugía y gracias a la Asociación Potosina de Raquetbol, los entrenadores y la gente que participo en ellos.

Aún con los brazos enyesados, él empezó a usar los pies y poco a poco, conforme le quitaban yeso o férula, fue agarrando la raqueta, dedo por dedo, se las ingenió con las herramientas que tenía para empuñar de nuevo la raqueta con algunas variantes que el adaptó.  Para diciembre de 2012 jugó y gano la división de dobles con ventajas haciendo mancuerna con Daniel de la Rosa, en febrero participo en el selectivo estatal rumbo a la Olimpiada y a partir de ahí logro volver al podio durante la Olimpiada Nacional en Guadalajara.

Su incursión al raquetbol profesional fue oficial en mayo de 2015 participó  su primer torneo profesional en el extranjero fue una parada del World Racquetball Tour en Colombia llegando hasta semifinales y en septiembre se fue de gira con la escuadra de Gearbox a diversas paradas del tour profesional y al US Open.

Al salir de la segunda operación en marzo de 2016, encontró su brazo completamente vendado así como la mitad de su pierna. En la intervención tuvieron que tomar un injerto de nervio de 30 cm de su pierna izquierda a su brazo, afortunadamente el cirujano localizo a nivel de la axila el nervio que al momento del accidente había sido trozado y se encontraba retraído, pero vivo y funcional, lo desdoblaron pero no contaba con la longitud suficiente para fijarlo nuevamente así que fusionaron el injerto con su nervio original, a nivel de mano y muñeca liberaron los tendones que se habían fibrosado y engarrotado de modo que pudiera abrir su mano. A la fecha sus dedos pulgar, índice y anular presentan sensibilidad disminuida y el pulgar derecho no realiza flexión, los músculos de la mano izquierda están atrofiados y no logra completa extensión del codo izquierdo

En teoría se requieran 2 cirugías, una por cada brazo pero el decidió que ya no quería someterse a una segunda intervención, él se siente muy bien y es capaz de realizar todas sus actividades sin limitación con su brazo derecho.

Para junio del 2016 ya se encontraba de vuelta en la cancha y en julio obtuvo la medalla de plata en la olimpiada nacional con sede en su natal San Luis Potosí. En ese mismo año lo galardonaron con el Sportsmanship Award como mejor jugador dentro y fuera de la cancha.

En 2017 termino el bachillerato y decidió tomar un año sabático para jugar de tiempo completo y aprender un nuevo idioma, optando por el portugués. En agosto de este año planea ingresar a la facultad de ingeniería de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL) donde iniciará la carrera de Ingeniería Aeronáutica en Monterrey. Gracias al deporte busca entrar en la UANL, que es reconocida por tener en su matrícula a grandes atletas que como el buscan llevar de mano el deporte y los estudios, sin ese apoyo que da la universidad sería muy complicado llevar a cabo esta meta.

Para cerrar nos comenta “Todo lo que he hecho y estoy haciendo nunca ha sido solo, siempre han estado mi mamá y mis hermanas apoyando, también gracias a la gente que participó en los torneos, compró playeras y que han aportado a mi causa se incluyen en los logros que he conseguido.”

Injuries and their Prevention in Racquetball

Unfortunately, racquetball is not a well-researched sport in comparison to other racquet sports such as tennis or table tennis. Much of the data available regarding calories burned during a game, for example, come from data acquired in the 1980s and 1990s when equipment and gameplay was very different.

However, we were delighted to learn of a racquetball study that was recently completed by Mexican LPRT racquetball player and university student Carolina Rivera Luque. Her thesis, as part of her physical therapy degree, was about racquetball injuries. Therefore, we asked her to share a little about what she found.

Why were you interested in studying racquetball athletes for your thesis?

I became interested in racquetball injuries because of my own experiences. I was a junior champion of the 16U division of the Mexican National Olympics, but I suffered a serious injury. I tore my meniscus not long after obtaining the title, but before the national qualifier for the Junior World Championships.

I got injured during preseason training, but I was not the only one who was injured; I saw several other players get injured before, during, and after tournaments. I began to wonder whether there was something wrong with how racquetball players were training for tournaments. I also questioned whether playing so many matches in such a short period of time also affected injury rates. I was not sure if it was due to the biomechanics of the swing or something else.

I did some research on racquetball injuries and found very little information. I found articles describing ocular (eye) injuries but not much else. However, I knew from researching other sports such as soccer that the prevalence and incidence of injuries depends on position, the number of hours of practice and games per week, weaknesses in the muscles, and other things. But there was no data or information on the injuries that occur in racquetball.

Who did you study? Tell us a little bit about your methodology.

I actually started my investigation in 2016 and interviewed athletes that had experienced injuries. I chose racquetball athletes in the 16 and under division (born in 1999 or 2000). I chose this group because I had noted that it is at about this age where players start having pain or injuries that affect their training. At this age, athletes are training much harder and play more tournaments per year. This age group is part of the Pan-American Games, Junior World Championships, and National Championships. They also compete in a variety of other open tournaments around the country.

The book Total Training for Junior Champions by Tudor Bompa presents training guidelines and goals oriented to specific age groups and sports. It also considering gender differences along puberty. He emphasizes the importance of tailoring programs to maturational levels instead of chronological ages. Bompa addresses all phases of development, including prepuberty—the period of initiation; puberty—the phase of athletic formation; and post puberty—the time of specialization. He mentions maturation, which is associated with elite athletic phase.

One of the main problems with injuries in adolescents is that early specialization violates the mutilaterality principle (which is the first phase, development phase in which the child should be able to develop skill proficiency across multiple areas: balance and agility while rolling, throwing, kicking, catching, ducking, jumping, crawling, dribbling, etcetera).

During the athletic formation phase, which takes place from 12-16, girls find themselves in an extreme hormonal experience, and many studies have noted an association between capsular and ligament distention during the premenstrual phase of the cycle. This requires restructuring training programs, especially mesocycles that can be adapted to the progesterone and estrogen phases of the menstrual cycle. For instance, trainers should consider implementing more coordinative skills training, technique, stretching, and proprioception during their PMS instead of a power training program that may injure ligaments or muscles; laxity increases significantly throughout the menstrual cycle when comparing baseline with peak levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Other injuries at this age may be associated with growth development. Such an example is Osgood Schlatter’s disease, which is a painful, bony growth that occurs on the shinbone just below the knee often during puberty. This is also a very prevalent disorder in youth that train in high impact sports (e.g., basketball, volleyball, soccer, jumping, running) along with early maturation of bone epiphysis because of the over stimulation and load on the femur, tibia, humerus, radius, etc. Many authors agree that youth under 15 are still developing basic skills and skipping this psychomotricity step can generate dysfunctions and complications or even “burn out” the athlete when trying to develop a more complex skill such as a racquetball swing. In other words, this is an age where young athletes are training more, competing more, but are still developing their physical and mental skills.

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What did you discover?

The injury history said that most righties have more injuries on their right side and the lefties have more injuries on their left side. This suggests the dominance of a cross chain overuse or may be an imbalance in the muscle length-strength relationship (this is one of the things I would like to study specifically) during the swing of the righties during their forehand motion (weight transfer to the left leg, torsion of the hips, thorax and scapular waist/shoulder twist). In the case of lefties, the over use of the arm, elbow, and wrist points to be the most important issue and their sustentation base during the swing seemed to be the main problem related to their leg. In the righties, the issues were with their left knee, ankle and thigh, but the upper body (arms, elbow, wrist, hand) injuries in the righties took place on the right side.

Those who were left-handed (7 athletes) experienced more injuries on their left side and reported more pain in general on that side. It is my hypothesis that left-handed players are over using their lower left limb (legs) to execute their back hand. In comparison, I discovered that right handed players put too much demand on their legs during serves and forehands which cause lower extremity injuries such as knee pain during and after competition, muscle tears, and ankle sprains. I also found that those with ankle sprains experienced a repetitive incidence of the injury; once they experienced a sprain, they often sprained it more than once. This suggests that rehabilitation and strengthening of the injured joint is not taking place and should be implemented as a preventative procedure.

Seven surgeries were reported, but only four were muscle skeletal and significantly impacted their training. All were treated with physical therapy. The only surgery related indirectly to racquetball was the knee surgery due to gonarthrosis (chondromalacia patellae). Interestingly, only 7 out of the 72 non-surgical injuries were treated with physical therapy. Our culture has not taught most of the community the algorithm of re-integration to sports after an injury. Here is where I would like to intervene with an active rest protocol and a more specific physical therapy intervention that will lead to a functional recovery, reinforcement, and probable adjustments of the technical aspects of the basic skills on their everyday activities and specific racquetball movements.

Do you think there are more or less injuries in racquetball than other similar sports like tennis?

As part of my study, I researched other racquet sports such as badminton, table tennis, and squash. There were reports of injuries in the lower back, shoulder impingement, and knees. This data coincides with the finding of my study. There were also several reports on pathologies specific to a sport such as golfer's elbow. I did an evaluation of injuries in table tennis and found that the Cuban national team reported more injuries in the upper limbs. This might be expected because table tennis does not require as much movement across space compared to racquetball.

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As an athlete, what could I do to help prevent some of the injuries that you reported?

For those competing, I strongly recommend having annual sports medicine or physical therapy evaluations. Having coaching or a certified trainer to help athletes in this area is also highly recommended. In my opinion, no matter the sport, everyone should begin activity with a complete warm up. This should include a focus on strength, balance, core activation, and flexibility before practicing. Athletes should complete functional movement that uses correct form. For that you need core stability and strength. 

There must be a balance between flexibility and strength of the main muscle groups, and I recommend dedicating at least two sessions a week for flexibility training. Flexibility training should not be done on the same day as strength training.

When strength training, train isolated muscles with negative phases. In other words, control how you return the muscle to its relaxed phase. Too many people make a big effort during the concentric movement (e.g., jumping) but pay no attention to the eccentric movement (e.g., landing) which is statistically the main mechanism of injuries and the instability in this phase along with the muscle weakness-tightness relationship (agonist shortening subsequently generates unhealthy elongations in the antagonist groups and therefore a compensation because of the body’s tensegrity model). 

What do you want to explore next?

I would like to do a study investigating the injuries of professional players and compare them to other sports and other levels. I would also like to evaluate pain zones during practice or competition and compare it to an athlete’s hours of training and the number of tournaments in which they compete.

Eventually, I would like to develop injury prevention programs and rehabilitation protocols that are racquetball specific. I would like to investigate the impact of the vibrations in the tendons, core and scapular stability, and eventually use biomechanical analysis to aid in the development of safe and effective fundamental swing and movement pattern technique in racquetball. I would like to promote health and sports in my community, organize talks for patient education and forums where we can dialogue about what can be improved in our performance and training without risking the health of the athletes.

I am planning to assist at the Junior World Championships this year and my hope is that the National Federation will allow me to interview and assess these junior athletes to continue building on the data that I already have. Doing so will allow me to continue targeting areas for improvement in the sport when it comes to injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Thoughts From the 2018 Canadian National Championships

 I provided commentary with the support of Mitch Brayley throughout the tournament. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

I provided commentary with the support of Mitch Brayley throughout the tournament. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

A few short weeks ago, I (Tim Baghurst) was kindly invited by Racquetball Canada to stream their national championships. For me, it was a unique opportunity to see some different players, but to also see how the tournament was run differently to the state, national, and international tournaments I have attended over the past several years. After eight days and over thirty matches streamed, I learned a lot. In this short article, I highlight some administrative observations that would be of interest to those organizing and operating tournaments, and I also share some points that may assist those athletes who are looking for small differences that might help them at tournaments and during tournament play.

 Administrative

National championships are lengthy affairs and last several days. The Canadian National Championships include both singles and doubles within one larger tournament. I can see the value in this. Trips such as these are expensive, and to complete both singles and doubles in one event is likely more cost effective for players than two separate events even if it is longer.

 The National Championships included a doubles tournament followed by singles. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

The National Championships included a doubles tournament followed by singles. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

The doubles tournament preceded the singles tournament, and most players remained for both. For some, playing doubles before their singles tournament allowed them to acclimatize to the courts and environment. It was perceived as an opportunity to prepare for singles, which they considered more important. However, doubles first can also present problems. In doubles, players typically hit a lot more balls even if they do less running. In addition, and in the unfortunate case for at least one player in the gold division, injuries can occur. The physical toll can affect performances in singles. It would be interesting to evaluate which division players prefer to compete in first, and it is my understanding that Racquetball Canada will be doing a survey of the athletes who were part of this event. Market research is a valuable asset in ensuring the best product is produced.

 

The tournament desk included a whiteboard on which all upcoming matches and their assigned courts were written. This made it very easy for players to know which court they would be playing on. It also informed fans which court they should be watching.

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With any tournament, the provision of food can be problematic. If a tournament director is providing food, it is offered within a certain time frame, and when it is gone, it is gone. This is an issue for those playing during this time. Also, there are those who paid for food through their entry but are not coming to the courts just to eat when their match is hours later. In this tournament, the players were provided lunch at a local restaurant on a special menu with about eight food options over a five hour period (11am to 4pm) . This removed the complications of bringing food into the facility, but also allowed athletes different choices each day depending on their tastes and nutritional needs. A similar process occurs at the IRF Senior World Championships.

In Canadian Racquetball rules, players must win by two clear points. The purpose of this policy is to remove the lucky bounce, so to speak, that determines a match. However, to win a tiebreaker 11-10, for example, the player must still win two rallies. Although there were one or two exciting finishes (e.g., 15-13), winning by two clear points may take away the drama of players winning by a single point. In collegiate tennis, for example, players no longer earn “advantage” and then an additional winning point after deuce. Rather, at 40-40, the next rally wins. This makes those rallies extremely dramatic. Winning by one or two clear points is a debatable issue; perhaps two points is the preference of the athlete and one point the preference of the fan.

Athletic

Some players arrived the night before the tournament began. For some, this was a long car journey, which can be fatiguing and affect other areas such as hydration and nutrition. However, perhaps even more concerning is that by arriving late, some players did not have an opportunity to practice or hit on the courts prior to the beginning of the tournament. From a performance standpoint, these small issues can be the difference in success or failure. In a single elimination tournament, players must be prepared to perform from the first rally. Racquetball Canada use the Olympic format (Gold, Red, Blue, & White) in some situations, and in others a round robin format is applied. Either way, one loose game or match can affect medal chances.

The tournament provided a warm up and cool down area for players. It was interesting to note that while some players did warm up stretch and subsequently cool down and stretch after their match, others did not. There is plenty of evidence to support the value of these aspects of performance, and those interested in transitioning from an athlete to professional should consider adopting these practices into both their training and competition.

 Coby Iwaasa (left) faced Samuel Murray (right) in a pulsating Men's Singles final. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

Coby Iwaasa (left) faced Samuel Murray (right) in a pulsating Men's Singles final. Photo credit: Jan Hanson

During the tournament, the weather was quite humid, and the courts became slick as a result. In the final of the men’s singles, for example, a 15-minute break occurred before the tiebreaker to allow the court to be dried. There were numerous wet ball calls throughout the week, and some players struggled to handle the situation more than others. These circumstances occur during competition, and players must learn to accept difficult or unexpected situations (e.g., not being able to hit a specific serve because it is consistently being called a wet ball) and adapt accordingly without letting it interfere with their mindset.

Timeouts are an integral part of many sports, and allow the athlete or team an opportunity to regroup or halt the momentum of the opposition. Do they work? More often than not, they do. If they did not, players and coaches in the sports that permit them would not use them so often. In the 60+ games of racquetball I watched, less than 10 of those games included the full use of timeouts by the losing player. Of course, this is not an issue specific to Canadian players, but it was very evident at this tournament. Furthermore, it was interesting to note that players were less likely to take timeouts during doubles matches. Timeouts are a valuable asset and should be used when available and needed.

Summary

Attending any tournament provides us all with an opportunity to learn. For those who do run tournaments or have such aspirations, attending another director’s tournament provides opportunities to learn best practices. For coaches and athletes, observing the routines, habits, and methods of other amateurs and professionals provide opportunities to learn and grow. Next time you go to a tournament, try seeing instead of just watching.

 

Parrilla Claims First IRT Title

Andree Parrilla has been a force to be reckoned with for many years. A finalist as a 17-year-old at the 2014 Pan Am Championships, we have seen this young man mature from a successful junior career into a very competitive contender in the senior ranks. And then, just a few short weeks ago, he claimed his first IRT pro stop title in Chicago. We caught up with him briefly to discuss his experience.

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What was it like to win your first IRT stop?

It felt pretty good. I was waiting for that from when I first starting playing the tour. It was really tough, and for many tournaments, I lost in the first or second round without winning any money. So I’m really happy to have won my first IRT title.

Were you nervous?

Yes, I was really nervous when I made the final because I knew what an opportunity it was for me. I knew I might never get another chance. I hope I will have one, but I was really nervous. I knew I was playing Bobby (Horn) and I know him very well.

You finished 3rd in the Mexican Nationals which qualified you to play in the Pan Am Championships. What is it like playing for your country?

It is one of the best things to happen to me, to play for my country. I feel a little more pressure but I like that. It’s a great honor for me.

RYDF helps players, but some might not understand how they help you. Can you explain that a little?

Yeah, when I first started playing the tour, they started helping me financially. They helped to pay for hotels and the things that you have to pay for at a tournament. When they started helping me, it was a great help to me, because I couldn’t afford to go. For example, they have helped with my hotel, which has enabled me to start making a little money.

I think that it’s really important for younger players like me, who are just starting our adult careers, that people who like racquetball do donate. The sport is not very big, and the racquetball family is not really big yet. But we want to grow the sport. We want to grow as players. We want the tours and the IRF (International Racquetball Federation) to grow also. By donating and helping us to go to all the tournaments, it not only helps us but also helps the sport. 

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With that win over another RYDF supported player, David “Bobby” Horn, Parrilla becomes only the fourth Mexican (Beltran, De La Rosa, Landa) to claim an IRT title. Look out for this young and entertaining player as he continues to represent Mexico at international and professional events.

RYDF: Four Years and Counting!

In the fall of 2013, a handful of racquetball enthusiasts from the San Francisco Bay Area created a nonprofit to help grow racquetball by supporting young players who wished to enter and remain in professional racquetball. After quickly being granted a tax-exempt status, RYDF began actively working towards its goals.

RYDF remains firmly grounded in our mission of supporting young athletes from North, Central, and South America. We help provide the resources these promising athletes need to achieve success both on and off the court and to develop successful professional careers and personal lives. RYDF is pleased to highlight our successes over the last four years:

  • RYDF has raised and distributed near $235,000 thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors.
  • RYDF directly supported over 70 young men and 50 young women with their dream of playing at the professional level. Over a dozen RYDF-supported players have played with their national team in international competition.
  • RYDF provided shared housing at over 90 professional tour stops for the IRT, LPRT, and WRT. Housing provides these young athletes the opportunity to cut costs, and it also eases the stress and burden of arranging housing at tournament locations. Our athletes tell us this helps their focus and performance.
  • RYDF allocated 70% of its resources to directly support its players and youth through its three programs:
  1. Fitness Forever (Dream It),
  2. Dream Team (Reach It) and
  3. Athlete to Professional (Live It).

RYDF achieved these goals because of the support of so many of you. Our programs significantly helped young athletes in their striving to achieve success as professional racquetball athletes. Additionally, the 2017 launch of our Fitness Forever program promotes and provides fitness activity to youth with their families, while helping to “Save Our Courts” across the United States.

 Fitness Forever is one of several RYDF initiatives.

Fitness Forever is one of several RYDF initiatives.

Future Plans

As RYDF heads into its fifth year, we are passionately driving these projects:

Dream Team

Currently, the Dream Team includes young men and women who have applied for and been approved as an RYDF-supported player. RYDF athletes receive housing at tour stops and a variety of other support to help them become more professional both on and off the court, including the setting of standards and expectations of our supported players.

Fitness Forever

This innovative program engages families and youth in locations where access to physical fitness and healthy lifestyles are limited by economic conditions. Through the support of fitness club organizations, such as In-Shape in Northern California, who provide families and youth three visits to experience a program that values family and friendship. 

Developed as a joint effort between the Reaching Your Dream Foundation and Dave and John Ellis, it started at the Stockton In-Shape club. Dave and John have expanded the program to nine additional Bay Area clubs. Most importantly, RYDF and the Ellis’ are working to export the model to other interested communities both inside and outside of California through a proposed partnership with USA Racquetball (USAR). 

Besides providing programing that addresses fitness needs of many families in underserved communities, the Fitness Forever program, through its volunteers, are helping to “Save Our Courts”. This program has shown so much success that for 2018, RYDF’s Board of Directors voted to double the funding and plan to prioritize this exciting and beneficial program.

Athlete to Professional

The Dream Team is comprised of young players who lacked the financial resources to attend professional tournaments, where they could get the experience needed to become competitive at the professional level. After four years of RYDF support, along with great dedication and training on their own and with coaches, many of these players have demonstrated incredible success, on and off the court.

RYDF provides players with personal life coaching sessions (thank you Mike Manoske, RYDF board member) and training on the mental and physical aspects of preparation and playing professional racquetball (thank you, Rocky Carson and Tim Baghurst). We provide and entertain articles on these topics as part of our monthly newsletter, delivering on our goal to help these players build a career within and beyond racquetball.

 RYDF supported Mauro Rojas and Hollie Scott both returned from the Junior World Championships with medals.

RYDF supported Mauro Rojas and Hollie Scott both returned from the Junior World Championships with medals.

Learning and Growing

Reaching Your Dream Foundation continues to listen and grow. We understand the financial challenges many racquetball athletes face and racquetball in general. We are pleased with our successes at helping professionals develop themselves on and off the court. We recognize that many, maybe even most, will at some point move on, but still make professional racquetball a supplement to their overall career. We’re confident that focusing on success on and off the court helps these players make the choices that work for them and their families.    

We are very excited with the growth and participation of our Fitness Forever program, serving youth and their families with fitness opportunities and training. Thanks to Dave and John Ellis, and all volunteers helping with this!

We strive to better the sport of racquetball and its players and cannot do this without the support of like-minded individuals. We thank the many of you who have donated your time and money supporting our mission and those we serve. If you have ideas to help RYDF continue growing and improving its services, please contact us! We love hearing from you.

 Gerardo Franco won the 2017 WRT Sportsmanship Award and also won the 2017 Junior World Championships in doubles with another RYDF supported player Lalo Portillo.

Gerardo Franco won the 2017 WRT Sportsmanship Award and also won the 2017 Junior World Championships in doubles with another RYDF supported player Lalo Portillo.

Lalo Portillo: Building a Brand

In December, we published what some might consider a controversial article featuring Markie Rojas. Within this article, we highlighted the financial struggle many players on racquetball tour experience: relying on prize money from tournament successes is not a sustainable financial model. Our article was not written to criticize tours, players, or tournament directors. Rather, a goal of RYDF is to actively help those in racquetball overcome challenges just like this. We see ourselves as part of the solution. However, sometimes to offer solutions, problems must be identified.

So how does a player not only financially survive as a professional but profit from it? Some do, such as Rocky Carson and Paola Longoria, and one young RYDF supported player is in the early stages of attempting to replicate their success. We caught up with Mexican Lalo Portillo to learn more about what he is doing to make his racquetball career a success on and off the court.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Lalo Portillo and I am from Mexico. I am 18 years old and I am currently living in Seattle because I am in an Intensive Program to learn English. One day I would like to be a pilot and to do that I need to speak fluent English. I have been at the school for one semester and I will finish my second semester in March. I have one sister in Mexico who is in her last year in high school. My dad is a civil engineer and my mom stays at home and takes care of the family.

 

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What about racquetball? When did you start and how successful have you been?

I began playing racquetball when I was six years old. I used to live in Querétaro where I did gymnastics, but my family moved to San Luis Potosi and gymnastics was too expensive there. Instead, my dad would bring me to the racquetball courts because my parents were members of the club and it was free for me.

The first tournament I won was the Mexican junior nationals at age seven. It was a multibounce event, which qualified me for the junior world championships, which I also won. I have won many junior national titles in Mexico as well as world titles. In 2017, I won the 18s doubles title at the World Juniors but lost to Mauro Rojas in the final of the 18s singles.

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What are your racquetball goals?

I want to be the best racquetball player in the world one day. That is one of my goals. But another goal I have is to be the youngest player to ever win the US Open.

You have been much more visible on social media recently. Why are you doing that?

Well, there are two reasons. The first is to help grow racquetball and share the sport with other people who may not know too much about it. I want more people to know what it is and maybe it encourages them to want to play it also. If I can, I want to use social media to present racquetball to those who do not know what it is. The other purpose is to help build my image and brand to help me get more sponsors.

 

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Can you explain what you mean by building your brand?

Yes. I want to be a professional racquetball player, but I know that at the moment there is not a lot of money in the sport. If you win first place in a tournament you can make some money, but that is very hard to do. But many players in other sports make a lot of money from sponsors, and sometimes they make more money from sponsors than their prize money. They do not even have to be the best player, but if they are very popular, the sponsor wants to work with them. I think it is important to try to be like that.

Paola Longoria is a very good example of what you can do to make money from sponsors that are not normally part of racquetball. Her popularity in Mexico helps her to make money and makes racquetball more popular. Of course, it helps that she is successful on the court!

I am not just doing this to get sponsors so that I have more money. Well, I do want more sponsors to have more money, but I need more money in order to travel to more pro stops. If I can play more and better players, I can learn more quickly and gain more experience. Sponsors can help me go to tournaments, which helps me improve my racquetball skills, which helps me earn more prize money by getting better results in tournaments.

How did this start and what specific things are you doing to build your image?

I have been working with GOAT Sports Performance for the last few months. We are developing a plan to grow my image and develop a sponsorship plan. One of the videos that I watched that GOAT Sports made was an interview with Gearbox Sports owner Rafael Filippini. He talked about how to promote yourself as an athlete and gave examples of players who understood they were their own business. Since watching the video, I have been talking with Rafael and getting his advice so that I can learn from the best.

I have also started creating instructional videos about racquetball and have a playlist of videos I have made so far. I am slowly making short videos to help those who might be interested in learning more about racquetball skills and technique.

 The last thing I am doing is to create video logs about my racquetball and life experiences. I want to be able to share with people my experiences studying in America, traveling to tournaments, and what it is like to be a professional racquetball player. I am really excited about this and I want to show people my experiences and adventures playing racquetball. I am hoping to travel a lot this year, which will give me lots of great material!

What are your plans for the near future?

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I am still a junior player in Mexico, but I want to try and qualify for China if possible. The competition is very hard in Mexico but I want to get the experience. I will also compete in the junior national championships in Mexico, but I hope to be able to compete in many pro stops this year. I am grateful to RYDF for helping me over the past several months to travel to some of these tournaments. Without their help, I could not have gained so much experience.

Summary

Developing a social media presence that might attract sponsors is a long-term project, and cannot be accomplished through short-term efforts. It requires consistent work to develop a brand and image that is attractive to potential sponsors. As an 18 year old, Lalo is a young professional that understands the value of social media. Within this interview, he has shown how he has learned from others, such as Rafael Filippini, and has begun making specific efforts to grow his visibility.

While unfortunate, the current reality of professional racquetball is that athletes must find sources beyond prize money to support their careers. This is a difficult task, and requires substantial work. However, should Lalo succeed in securing sponsors and building a larger social media presence over the next several years, it is important to recognize the longevity of this effort, which began in 2018.

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Understanding Anxiety and Nerves

by

Dr. Tim Baghurst

www.goatsports.pro

 Ice skating requires perfect timing in a very visible environment.

Ice skating requires perfect timing in a very visible environment.

If you’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, you’ve seen some of the finest athletes on the planet compete for the greatest prize in their sport. Some athletes have risen to the occasion, doing their very best when it mattered most. Yet some have not, and we have seen many, many catastrophic failures on ice and snow.

Why is this? An athlete trains for years for this very moment, and when it comes, they fall short. They train countless hours to become physically perfect but break down mentally in the big moment.

A great example of this came during the ice dancing. American duo of Hubbell and Donohue were in third place after the short program, and a good performance in the long program could put them in the history books.

But, as reporter Christine Brennan states, “… they started off a bit raggedly on their twizzles, one of the staples of any ice dance program, and doubt suddenly crept in. ‘I think we both had a little bit of a moment mentally,’ Hubbell said. ‘We knew everybody was skating very strong in the event, and we knew that it was going to be very close.’”

Another lapse in concentration and another mistake soon found the Americans completely out of the medal picture. Simple routines done thousands of times in practice became complicated.  Suddenly the pair could not keep it together, and found themselves going home without a medal.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety can be easily confused with fear and stress. Fear is the presence of a specific, observable danger. Something tangible, such as a tree falling toward you, is a danger and can cause fear. Stress is caused by the perception that you do not have the resources to cope with the situation.

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Anxiety is the perception of a threat to a person’s essential value. It may be a physical (injury), psychological (shame), or interpersonal (loss of respect) threat.   A sports example is a coach who tells an athlete to play a new position immediately before an event. If the athlete doesn’t think they can play that position, they are likely to become stressed.

In most sporting situations, there is no need to be fearful. Stress can and does occur, but it’s anxiety which is most common. More specifically, athletes experience anxiety or get nervous when they place expectations upon themselves that would otherwise not exist. Examples include:

·         “What if I lose?”

·         “What if I win?”

·         “I’ll let so many people down if I don’t play well.”

·         “This match is more important to me.”

·         “Coach said it’s on me to win this.”

Anxiety is a very complex topic; not something that can be explained or trained in a short article. However, recognize that some athletes are more likely to get nervous than others. It is part of their personality.

Also understand that nerves can be both mentally and physically harmful. An athlete who is nervous will most likely be thinking negatively, which impacts their performance through feelings of self-doubt and fear of failure, but they will also experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, nausea, and sweating. All these lead to negative outcomes and cause the athlete to experience mental and physical fatigue.

When Does Anxiety Occur?

Oftentimes, the assumption is that athletes are most nervous in the big moments. Yes, in many situations that is true, but not because the environment is suddenly different, but rather because the athlete perceives the environment or situation to be different. It is psychological.

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However, nerves may occur more in situations where the pressure is perceived to be greatest. In a big match, where I am a significant underdog, I may experience no nerves, because I do not feel pressured to win. It is not expected of me. Rather, I may experience more nervousness in a situation where I know it will be close.

Here is a good example: get a ball and a bucket and attempt to throw the ball into the bucket from three feet, nine feet, and fifteen feet (if you can create a pressure environment such as in front of an audience then even better). In which situation did you feel the most pressure? My guess is at nine feet. Why? Well, three feet was simple and at fifteen feet you knew it would be very difficult and there would be no judgement if you missed. But at nine feet, making the shot is possible. The same applies to sporting situations. You may have an easy match, and an impossible match, but that one in the middle might be the one which creates the anxiety.

Controlling Anxiety

Nerves are very individual specific, and there is no secret sauce that fixes nerves. Unfortunately, many coaches tell their athletes to “just relax” but are not relaxed themselves and have never taught their athletes how to relax. Meditation, breathing techniques, and physical techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation are all valuable tools in controlling anxiety, but they take time and training to master.

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Athletes who recognize they are nervous are taking the first step in addressing it. One recommendation for the short term is to interpret nervousness with excitement. Excitement is not a bad thing and can help performance. Unfortunately, too many athletes see anxiety as a negative and therefore focus on negative thinking. Instead, athletes should try seeing nerves as a positive tool. Why the excitement? Usually because the opportunity exists for success.

Summary

Nerves are common within sports and racquetball is no exception. They typically stem from the athlete placing too much pressure on themselves in specific situations where they perceive a lot is at stake. Coaches may also contribute to this situation. Unfortunately, nerves can cause physical and mental side effects, and as a result, performances decline. Recognizing when an athlete gets nervous is the first step in providing treatment, which can come in both physical and mental forms. 

About RYDF

Please support the mission of RYDF in assisting young athletes from around the world with needed resources to achieve success both on and off the court, and to develop successful careers in sports and life. RYDF accomplishes this through three related programs:

Dream It – Fitness Forever Program

Empowers communities by providing opportunities for youth & families to experience fun, friendship, and lifetime health and fitness through participation in racquet sports. 

Reach It – The Dream Team

Provides emerging professional racquet sport athletes with financial support, mentoring, and career development opportunities to achieve success on the court and in their life.

Live It – Athlete to Professional

Uses experts across disciplines to provide knowledge, skills, tools, and practices to improve performance, build a successful career on and off the court, and give back to the community.