FAIRFIELD — Balls whizzing around at more than 120 mph is just fine with Jeff Parker.
Parker, the racquetball director at the In-Shape health club on Holiday Lane, uses the sport, along with many others, to keep his body toned. Playing – and winning – some tournaments is just icing on the cake.
Of course, it took Parker, who turns 51 next month, many years to get as good as he is these days.
“I started fairly young, but I didn’t know anything about the game, the rules,” Parker said. “I was just hitting the ball as hard as I could. Not until I joined Solano Athletic Club (now In-Shape) about 13 years ago, I started playing competitively.”
As for how Parker was turned on to the fast-paced sport?
“A friend of mine played,” Parker said. “We would go to the club when I was 15 or 16. We were looking for something fun to do. l looked at weights and cardio stuff and thought, ‘How boring in this?’ So, to get a workout, I played racquetball. I was hooked on it. Later, it all came together.”
Even after getting hooked on the game, it took some time for Parker to adjust to how fast the game was. He then became more of a student of the game to get better.
“Everybody was actually a lot better than me,” Parker said about when he started taking the sport seriously. “There’s a lot of technique involved. My first passion is golf. I also cycle, stay as active as possible. When it came to racquetball, everyone was better. I had to watch to learn. It was a learning curve.
“Footwork is extremely important. Probably one of the most important things is anticipating where the ball is going to go. I hit the ball around 125 mph. The younger, stronger players, the pros, the open players hit it about 140. The technology and balls we use, there are five different types. There are five different colors. That dictates the speed of the ball. With the advent of the bigger racquets, you can string a racquet to your strength (and ball type).”
Parker is a doubles parter with John Lillemoe, but also plays singles, which is more physically demanding.
“You have more room to cover in singles,” Parker said. “There’s no help from a partner. There’s a lot of strategy involved in singles, a lot more passing shots. There’s more kill shots in doubles. I prefer singles. I’m there to get a workout and stay healthy.
“In our club, it’s pretty much a doubles club because of all the players. The true workout comes in singles. We’re forced into doubles because we don’t want people to sit.”
And it’s a sport that’s playable year-around. Parker said he plays anywhere from eight to 10 tournaments a year.
“The beauty about racquetball ball, you play it 365 (days a year),” he said. “You can’t say that about most sports. You keep the heart rate up. That’s the key to conditioning. Racquetball doesn’t give you much chance to recoup.
“We’re lucky in NorCal. We have the regional support. We have a lot of tournaments around here. I might play in a national singles tournament in Fullerton in May. They will probably draw 300 players. It’s huge. The complex is amazing. There are guys that make a living doing this.”
Of course, not everyone will make a living from the sport, but Parker is always willing to have newcomers join his sport, especially if they want to get in shape.
“If someone comes out to In-Shape, I would personally teach them,” Parker said. “We have a free sign-up twice a month. I’ll supply all the equipment, gloves, racquets, goggles, the whole nine yards. I am a certified racquetball teacher.”
And a true lover of the sport.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.