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Meet Bolivian Coach Felipe Mercado

Bolivia is the world’s hotbed of racquetball.  At the recent IRT/LPRT Grand Slam in Cochabamba, hundreds and hundreds of fans showed up for matches, many of whom were not players and bought tickets to watch. It was an incredible event. One of the players/coaches who has been at the forefront of making racquetball the sport it is in Bolivia is Felipe Mercado.  We asked Felipe to share a little information about himself and his incredible passion for racquetball.  In Felipe’s words: 

I was born in Tarija City in 1982, and I started playing racquetball when I was 6 years old. Every night my family met with friends and their families to play at a local club. Being just a little kid, I was only able to play when the adults were resting between games. Even so, I enjoyed trying to hit the ball inside the court or even outside; I sometimes broke flowerpots, glasses, or anything that crossed my shots.  Those were the happiest days of my childhood. I played racquetball and every sport that crossed my path: soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis, and fronton (Bolivian outdoor racquetball).

I started to compete when I was nine. I finished second in the U10 division in nationals before moving to Cochabamba City. When I moved, I continued playing a lot of other sports into my early twenties. However, things changed for me in 2001, when a Pan American Championships was held in Cochabamba. I went and watched the matches and could feel the excitement of the game. I literally watched every match, including many, many great players such as Kane Waselenchuk, Javier Moreno, Rocky Carson, Jack Huczek, Laura Fenton, Cheryl Gudinas, and Rhonda Rajsich. My experience is a great example of how seeing quality racquetball live and in person can change a life.

After that, and thanks to Coach Gonzalo Amaya who ran the team at Univalle College, I started to play again and practiced every day with friends. A few years later,   I qualified for my first National Adult Team. I played doubles with Santiago Canedo in the Racquetball World Championships in Anyang, Korea. I qualified for the national team on a couple more occasions, but I could not represent my country because there was no financial support. I could not afford to pay for tickets and all the expenses involved. Since then, I have represented Bolivia in both 2007 and 2013, and am proud and honored to have earned medals for my country.

Around 2010 I started as a racquetball instructor in a small city called Tiquipaya near Cochabamba. Shortly after, I was hired for two years as an assistant instructor in a private club in Cochabamba, and we eventually formed a Rollout Team with some players, their parents, and Manuel Flores, another coach. Through this program, we developed young players such as Mario Mercado, Cristian Mina, Masiel Rivera, Diego Crespo, Ernesto Ruiz, Micaela Molina, Romina Rivero, Valeria Centellas, and Diego García. Some of these players you may not know (yet), but combined they have won many, many local, national, and international titles.

Felipe with some of the juniors he coaches in Bolivia.

Felipe with some of the juniors he coaches in Bolivia.

I was part of the National Coaching Staff in Bolivia in 2014 and in 2017. I also spent time working as a National Team Coach in Ecuador, and I learned a lot from that experience. Spending time at practice session and coaching the team through tough tournaments taught me a lot. It was an amazing experience to coach great players from Ecuador such as Fernando Rios, Paz Muñoz, Juan Flores, and many others.

Currently, I have the enormous pleasure and responsibility to be part of the National Coaching Staff of Bolivia again. I am working to represent Bolivia in major events such as the Pan Am Games in Lima this summer. I also continue to work with junior students in my Academy in Cochabamba with my fellow coach and assistant Gary Rosas. Together, we instruct and coach almost 60 players ranging from 5 to 16 years old. We receive the help of each player’s parents and families, and we are building a good basis of new players. We are excited about the future of racquetball in Bolivia.

In addition, for the past couple of years I have partnered with Coach Brayan García to instruct and coach Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother). We enjoy our time on and off the court and we make a strong team. Diego is 18 years old and Valeria is 17, and both are current Junior World Champions in their age divisions. Both have recently received the help of the Reaching Your Dream Foundation, which has provided them with proper housing or a room in a hotel to attend recent professional tournaments. That help was very important to us because they do not receive much help from other sources in Bolivia.

Felipe with Coach Brayan García (middle), Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother).

Felipe with Coach Brayan García (middle), Valeria Centellas and Diego García (Brayan’s younger brother).

Fundraiser for RYDF a Huge Success

On Tuesday February 26th, 5-time World Champion Rocky Carson hosted a Pro-Am Fundraiser for the Reaching Your Dream Foundation at the club where he plays and teaches.  Rocky recruited several of the local area pro players (e.g., Luiz Avila, Brandon Davis, Scott Davis, Greg Solis, and Josh Tucker) and club players and was able to raise $10,000 for RYDF!  We’d like to thank Rocky, the pros, and the donors who gave their time and money to support the Reaching Your Dream Foundation.  We’d especially like to thank the owners and management of ClubSport Aliso Viejo. If any of those who read this want to consider doing the same thing for RYDF, please contact Mike Lippitt at 510.504.2494 and we will help you set it up. Thanks!

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A Fitness Forever Update from Prime Time Athletic Club, Burlingame, CA

Having started our program late last spring, it has been almost 10 months since we were first mentored by Dave and John Ellis in the re-start of our Junior Racquetball at Prime Time Athletic Club in Burlingame, California. Ranging in the ages of 6-15, our students meet every Tuesday from 5:30pm - 6:45 pm. We have had moderate growth. We began with 5 junior players, and we now average 11-12 players weekly.
 
Our participants attend regularly, and are showing signs of improving while having fun. Parents are grateful for the ongoing program, and the Club’s managers are pleased to see kids on the courts playing racquetball. We offer our program at no cost to the Club’s paying members, and we rely on volunteer instructors and donations. It feels good to contribute back to the sport that has given us so much, while at the same time know that we are growing the game. Whether these young players eventually become tournament tough, or not, they are learning new physical skills such as coordination, balance, and footwork. They also learn other important life skills such as teamwork, confidence, and social skills. Our program is a “win” all the way around. My special thanks go to John and Dave Ellis and to the Reaching Your Dream Foundation for all your support.
 
Respectfully,
 
Dave George
Coach & Racquetball Director

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Periodization: How to Time Your Weight Training for Racquetball

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Racquetball is a complex sport that involves multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement. Analyzing the unique demands of the sport and the needs of the athlete provides strength and conditioning specialists with the requirements needed to optimize performance and prevent injury. Unfortunately, there is almost no research about racquetball and what research we have is extremely dated. So, when trying to program for racquetball, how do you do it?  We recently published an article on this very topic.

Racquetball is characterized by short intermittent bursts of intense multidirectional activity such as changes in direction, twisting, stretching, hitting, and lunging in response to an opponent’s shot. Proficient agility, quickness, and neuromuscular control are essential for optimizing acceleration, explosiveness, and reactiveness. Dynamic balance and the ability to control one’s center of gravity are imperative for quick lateral and angular movements displayed on the court. Such multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement necessitate integrative training programs that focus on increasing strength and power while also improving balance and coordination. One of the challenges of the sport is that it requires whole body training and uses both aerobic and anaerobic systems. A racquetball player needs to be explosive but at times must also compete for long periods.

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 As the sport of racquetball continues to evolve and push physiological boundaries, there is a tremendous need for tailored strength and conditioning programs that address its various sport-specific demands. Trying to summarize an entire training program within a couple of pages is not possible, and we recommend reading the entire article when it is officially published (abstract here) or contacting one of us for a copy. However, one area we want to emphasize briefly is the need for periodized strength and conditioning training for the sport. Simply lifting some heavy weights or doing some plyometrics here and there may help, but it is going to work effectively. Conversely, focusing on being able to move for a long time without developing explosiveness will not suffice either.

Customizing programs specifically tailored to each team and athlete takes time and intentionality, and periodization provides the tools necessary to do so. In essence, periodization means the athlete trains and prepares for specific time points within a season so that he or she is at the best possible physical condition when it really matters.

 Since periodization is often contingent upon the competition season of the athlete, manipulating and adjusting critical variables (especially volume and intensity) allows training to elicit specific adaptations (i.e., increased muscle mass, strength, power) at varying time points throughout a season. For example, linear periodization involves a gradual progression of high volume, low intensity to low volume, high intensity throughout a training season. This approach aims to produce peak performance for a specific competition period or planned event. In contrast, programming for sporadic competition/tournament dates, where "peaking" and "maintenance" periods do not fit perfectly within a planned cycle requires a more frequent manipulation of intensity and training volume.

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The means by which training volume and intensity are altered during a periodized program impact the magnitude of neuromuscular adaptation achieved through training. When executed well, periodization optimizes the principle of overload, thereby providing the continuation of progress as well as avoidance of plateaus and/or overtraining. In other words, if periodization is done right, the athlete continues to improve throughout a season and avoids injury and overtraining. However, following such a plan means there will be times when the athlete is not at their best. The key is to perform when it really matters.

How this is accomplished is why we wrote the article in the first place, and again, cannot be explained in a few words. However, we encourage coaches and athletes to begin considering when and how they train and prepare off the court, so their best performances on the court are maximized when it matters most.

Chantel Anthony CSCS

Timothy Baghurst PhD

Spotlight on Athlete Luis Avila

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into racquetball.

Growing up I played a lot of baseball and soccer. But I got to the point where I got tired of playing the same sport. I was a little bored and wanted a new sport. I came across racquetball through my dad who showed me the basic concepts of the sport. Darrell Warren really was the one who introduced me to the fundamental basics of racquetball. I was about 15 and started getting the hang of it.

Darrell started getting me into tournaments from the beginning. This was back in 2013 or so. In my first tournament I entered the beginner division and won my first medal! Ever since that first medal I saw that I had potential to go further in the sport, as did Darrell.

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Initially, I started in the sport to have fun and play around with my dad and my friends, but in time I started progressing a bit faster than what I expected. From that progress, I started to see more and more success. My motivation has not just come from the progress I have made in the sport but because I started loving the sport. It made me want to learn more, so I started training with new coaches to get better. I have been getting a lot better and stronger in the sport and now train with others like Rocky Carson to improve and see what it takes to get to that last step to become a professional.

So what does it take to move from being an open level player to a professional?

From what I have seen, heard, and been told, there are many little things that can make the difference between the two. Basic fundamentals, shots, and little minor errors can make the difference. Being more consistent and focused on what your goal is can be the difference. The professional is dedicated enough to attack that error and fix it.

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What are your goals in the sport?

I won my first major title at WOR this year, which is just the beginning for me. I would love to be within the top 10 within a year and top 5 within 2-3 more years. However, I am not sure how realistic that is because of my schooling. It is very difficult to get away during the week when I miss so many classes. Therefore, I cannot attend as many tournaments as I want, which affects my ranking. Therefore, for this year I am just focusing on performing my best at each tournament I attend and building upon each experience.

What do you off the court to help become a pro player?

Eating healthy makes a huge difference. I used to not care what I ate and really suffered from a lack of energy and conditioning. Now I do not get that tired and I am more focused. In addition, I learned that I need to sleep well. I used to go to bed really late, but I have learned that it really makes a big difference. Working out properly is important. I do pure calisthenics where I just use my body weight right now. I am trying to add weight but not much because I do not want to bulk up and affect my flexibility. I also find it good to help up and coming young racquetball players to help teach them about the sport. Not only am I helping them, but I am learning at the same time.

How do you fund your career?

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Right now, I am a full-time student going to college (Harbor Community College). I give lessons and restring racquets, and I use that money for traveling to go to tournaments. If I do not have the funds to attend tournaments, my family will help. Also, I have acquired one or two sponsorships from friends I have met along the way. Some of my friends have helped me because they have seen the progress I have made and the potential I have to become successful. I also sell gear for Gearbox, which helps to pay for expenses.

What does RYDF mean and do for someone like you?

I did not know about RYDF until Mike Lippitt introduced me to it and gave me information about it. It is a very, very great sponsorship! It helps many players like myself and others attend tournaments we would not be able to attend. They help with hotels which is a really, really big cost on many peoples’ wallets. It means a lot to me. I hope that in the future, when I can win more prize money, as much as they have helped me, I will give as much back. I want to help other up-and-coming players to succeed. If it was not for RYDF, I would not be going to many tournaments or improving like I have. I cannot thank them enough for giving me chances to compete and give back to the sport.

Photo Credit: Stephen Fitzsimons

Photo Credit: Stephen Fitzsimons

What does the next 12 months look like for you?

I have not attended many IRT tournaments, but I plan to attend at least four or five tour stops if I can. Part of it requires that I miss classes and so I have to get permission to do that. If I can attend more that would be great. I would also like to make the US team. I got to attend the camp as a junior but I never got a chance to represent the US as a junior because of school. That is another goal I have.

Anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank all my coaches, my family, my sponsors, and all who have helped me to achieve my goals so far.

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.”