Dream Team

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.

IMG_0397.JPG

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.

 

27902009_1101921393281281_1838988763_o.jpg

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.

27946140_1101921313281289_333762005_o.jpg

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.

 

27946747_1101921403281280_925945694_o.jpg

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?

po.jpg

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.

IMG_1259.JPG

Junior National Champ Cooperrider Ready to Juggle School and Racquetball

Competitiveness is often a precursor to success in the case of Junior National Champion Jordan Cooperrider. “Competition runs in my family,” laughs Jordan. “Every Cooper has it. My friends laugh at me about it all the time because I want to be the best at everything and I get mad when I’m not, but we all have that competitiveness.”

For Jordan, her racquetball journey began as a four-year-old. “It was 14 years ago,” she reminisced. “My dad (Daryl) and older brother would play all the time, and my dad would bring me along to the club. But I wanted to play as well so he started putting me on the court with my older brother.”

Not a year later, as a 5-year-old, Jordan had entered her first tournament. It did not take long to make an impression. “It was in Florida, but I remember my dad told me I was playing the daughter of the number one professional at the time so it was quite memorable. I went in and beat her, and I remember her dad being in the court at the time. It’s something I’ve always remembered.”

Jordan playing as a 6-year-old.

Jordan playing as a 6-year-old.

A taste of success seems to be a motivator behind Jordan’s continued achievements, but her dad and coach Fran Davis also push her to be better. “My dad keeps me going and supports me with all the tournaments and getting me to practice and to train even when I don’t want to go. Of course, my coach Fran Davis is my full-time coach and keeps me mentally on track.”

At times, like many of us perhaps, quitting might be an easier option than enduring the challenges of training to be the best. And Jordan is no exception. She openly confesses that she has considered walking away from the sport, but the competition and the challenges she faces in tournaments are what spur her on. She recalls two examples of outcomes that have encouraged her to continue.

“When I was twelve, I won the Junior World Championships, and at the time I wasn’t much into the sport, and wasn’t interested in training, and wanted to quit racquetball. But when I won, it changed my motivation and made me want to keep playing. Playing that tournament is why I’m still playing. Then another great moment was when I was 15 and played my first pro stop. I beat pro player Frédérique Lambert at the stop and it made me want to train even more.”

Cooperrider with her parents.

Cooperrider with her parents.

Competing professionally is what Jordan aims to do for the near future, but she has her sights set much further ahead. “I want to play the pro tour fulltime. I want to make the U.S. adult team. I also want to be a veterinarian, so I’m going to have to figure out how I can compete and study. My goal is to own my own business so that I can travel around the world and compete. I want to mix my career with racquetball.” Jordan will be enrolling at University of South Florida in the spring following a semester of classes at a community college closer to home.

For Jordan, racquetball has had an enormous impact on her life, but she is also quick to recognize that it is not all just about her. “All the people I’ve met through racquetball have made me more social, livelier, and happier. It keeps me in shape, allows me to travel, and enjoy what I do. RYDF has really helped me and others get to tournaments. It is what we need to do to be playing more and getting used to playing higher-level players. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to as many tournaments, and by providing hotel rooms, it really helps a lot. But people should know that it is better to support RYDF than me as an individual. I really respect people who support RYDF because it’s not just me on the court. If you just support me, then I’m going to be the only one there. But if you support RYDF, then you’re supporting everyone.”

2017 Junior National Champion

2017 Junior National Champion

You can support the mission of RYDF by 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 different initiatives.

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.

Jordan hopes to combine school, work, and racquetball in her life.

Jordan hopes to combine school, work, and racquetball in her life.

Reaching Your Dream Foundation Enters Year Three

RYDF was established in 2014 as a nonprofit foundation to help grow racquetball by providing shared housing at professional racquetball tournaments to young men and women emerging as professional racquetball players.  In year one RYDF supported over 30 players at 15 World Racquetball Tour (WRT) and Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) stops. It soon became clear these young athletes also needed help off-the-court in areas such as branding, social media, presentation skills and developing longer-term career opportunities. RYDF enlisted the support of Rocky Carson, America’s most decorated professional racquetball player, to help develop an off-the-court mentoring program for these young emerging athletes. In year two, RYDF:

  • Provided off-the-court training on social media use, branding, and presentation skills
  • Added housing support for athletes playing at International Racquetball Tour (IRT) stops
  • Continued its housing support of athletes playing at WRT and LPRT stops

As year three begins, RYDF:

  • Has served over 90 emerging athletes in their quest to compete at the highest levels
  • Has implemented the RYDF Fitness Forever program which engages with underserved youth and adults to provide health and fitness programming, in collaboration with health clubs in their communities. We leverage our supported professional racquetball players for inspiration and mentoring, and have seen particular success to date with the In Shape Athletic Clubs and John Ellis’ Pro Racquetball Academy!
  • Is enhancing its off-the-court support for branding, social media use, and career development.
  • Continues to provide player support for WRT, LPRT and IRT tournament play

Finally, RYDF continues to support our emerging athletes’ desire to play at the highest level in international competition and national championships.  We’d like to congratulate star athlete Carla Munoz for winning her second consecutive national collegiate championship playing out of Colorado State University, Pueblo; and congratulations to star athletes Jake Bredenbeck and David Bobby Horn for their second place finish at the Pan Am Championships just completed in Costa Rica.

Please help RYDF continue its mission through our 3rd year!!!  Visit us at www.give2rydf.org and make a tax-exempt donation.

RYDF Helps Alex Succeed On and Off the Court

cardona.jpg

Alejandro Cardona is a 25-year-old professional racquetball player from Juarez, Mexico, with a distinguished junior career. Alex was an eleven-time Junior World Singles Champion and a five-time Junior Pan American Champion.  It seemed inevitable Alex would begin a career as a professional racquetball player.

But for almost two years, Alex had to abandon his hopes of playing professionally due to high travel costs to tournaments. He and his family didn't have the money to pursue his professional dream.  But through the creation of the World Racquetball Tour in 2012, sponsorship support from Gearbox, and the Reaching Your Dream Foundation, Alex has a second chance at reaching his dream.   And he's making the most of it.

Professional Racquetball now provides an opportunity for Alex to support his family back in Mexico.  With the winnings from his exceptional talent and RYDF and other support, Alex purchased and runs a food truck to help support himself and his family.  The Reaching Your Dream Foundation is proud to assist Alex and wishes him continued success both on and off the court, as we do for all the players we support.

Your generous tax-exempt donation helps support players like Alex and many others.  Please donate today.

Robbie Collins pays it forward through Fitness Forever Program

I moved to Stockton from Hawaii in October 2013 to play on the pro tour. Once there, John Ellis asked if I would help out one night a week with a few of the kids in the Fitness Forever / Stockton Juniors Program. I felt it was a good chance to get involved in the local racquetball community.

When I started, we averaged 8-12 kids a night. Over the last few years, the program has steadily grown with more and more kids joining our classes. Today, 30 children per night participate three nights a week, with new attendees continuing to join.

The program brings kids of all ages and backgrounds together. Everyone from beginners to Junior National Champs works hard to learn and improve all parts of their game. Most importantly, racquetball is a positive influence in their lives, giving them a place to stay away from getting involved with drugs and violence, and also staying focused on doing well in school.

Being a coach in the Fitness Forever program through the Reaching Your Dream Foundation has been an invaluable experience for me. I’ve been fortunate to grow as a coach and player under the guidance of some of the best coaches in the sport such as former IRT pro John Ellis, current US Team coach Dave Ellis, and present Junior US Team coach Jody Nance.

While the Reaching Your Dream Foundation directly supports my goals on the pro tour, the Fitness Forever program helps me pay it forward to the next generation of racquetball players. Whether the mission is to be a Junior National Champion or just to improve their backhand, it is a blessing to help these kids reach their goals.

RYDF Supported players shine at the Open; Congratulations Cristina Amaya, Mario Mercado, Gaby Martinez and Jaime Martell

marioandcristana.jpg

Team Colombia and RYDF sponsored players scored big wins at the US Open. Two star professional players, Cristina Amaya and Mario Mercado, won the women’s and men’s Open divisions respectively. Both have been supported by the RYDF for more than two years.

Jamie Martell

Jamie Martell

RYDF players also took home the winners trophy in the U.S. Open Mixed Pairs. Long time supported player, Jaime Martell of Mexico (always a fan favorite) paired up with 16 year old Gaby Martinez of Guatemala to win the U.S. Open Mixed Pairs. Jaime’s been with the foundation from its inception; Gaby is a newly supported player.

 

Gaby Martinez

Gaby Martinez

Gaby shocked the racquetball world in June; losing to Paola Longoria and finishing with a Silver medal at the Worlds. This was an astonishing accomplishment for the fast rising teenager.

RYDF congratulations to Cristina and Mario, Gaby and Jaime. We're excited to see them continue their growth in the game.

RYDF Congratulates Jose and Markie Rojas

209USOpen1.jpg

It was an epic U.S Open win for RYDF mentors Jose and Markie Rojas, taking first place in the Pro Doubles Division. This was the first US Open win for the Rojas brothers, widely celebrated by their many fans, particularly those in the “209” (the greater Stockton area code). Their win is a tribute to their hard work and long time commitment to nurture underserved members of the Stockton community.

Markie and Jose

Markie and Jose

Jose and Markie are part of an enormously successful racquetball community in Northern California, started and developed by Pat and Dave Ellis, and continued through their son John. Community key contributors include Jodie Nance and many others, including a racquetball club owner deeply committed to growing racquetball for 20 years at In Shape Athletic Clubs in Northern California.

RYDF’s Fitness Forever Program has partnered with the Ellis’ to provide a dynamic community engagement program targeting underserved youth and adults. Key help comes from RYDF supported players including Daniel Rojas, Robbie Collins, Tatoe Rojas, and Ricky Diaz, and others. They provide health and fitness activities at In Shape Athletic clubs.

Jose and Markie are long-time leaders, role models and mentors in the Stockton racquetball community to younger players in the successful juniors program at In Shape’s clubs.

RYDF’s goal is to help young players both on and off the court. We're equally proud that Jose and Markie are recent graduates from the University of the Pacific.

Jose and Markie will continue to provide leadership, support, and mentorship on behalf of the Reaching Your Dream Foundation. Additionally, they'll continue playing professional racquetball and representing the United States on the world stage.

RYDF thanks and congratulates Josie and Markie for their community service on top of their hard work and training, culminating in their US Open doubles victory.