PADECKY: Speed thrills national racquetball champion

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA

Parents, those of you who have big-time sports aspirations for your children, I have a deal for you. By the time I finish describing it, would you take it? Kids, would you take it, too? Would you find it attractive? Would you find it keeps you up at night, dreaming, excited, eager to get up the next day and go to practice?

Oh, by the way, the sport under discussion is not football, basketball or baseball.

In this sport, however, you are a United States national champion; you earned the gold medal June 30 at the U.S. Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa. You are a member of Team USA.

In October you will go to Bolivia to represent America in the world championships. Next week you will fly to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for four days at the United States Olympic Complex, including the scaling of the legendary heart-thumping climb up The Incline.

You have competed in 30 international matches against athletes from Costa Rica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Canada and Mexico. All your equipment, including clothing and shoes, is furnished by the company that sponsors you.

You are but 18. You are Sawyer Lloyd from Petaluma and you play racquetball.

“Where the average speed of the hit ball is about 115 miles an hour,” he said.

Where baseball hitters don’t have a monopoly on the term “hand-eye coordination.”

“If something falls off a table,” Lloyd said, “I’ll catch it.”

Think about that. Think how fast his reflexes must be. How quick his arms would have to extend and retract. How he would have made a good pickpocket.

How you would need to ask for instant replay, like they do in hockey, to see what happened. How you would like this guy around the kitchen cabinets when an 8.0 temblor hits. Baseball hitters are looking for a pitch to drive anywhere, when it comes at them at 95 miles per hour, taking in allowances that a round bat is coming into contact with a round ball.

“The ball comes at us faster than that,” said Lloyd, a May graduate from Summerfield Waldorf School, “and we have to put it somewhere.”

This is not a treatise on claiming one sport is better than the other. Rather, it’s more of an illumination, that when holding racquetball up to the light for examination, it exams very well.

Racquetball players aren’t chubby; too much bending for that. Racquetball players suffer, just check the ball-size red welt on one of their legs or backs; think of a stinging bee on steroids. Unlike a baseball game, one cannot read a book or politely doze off watching a racquetball game; a mini-sonic boom invades the ear canal nearly every time that rubber balls hits the front wall at speeds in excess of 115 miles per hour.

Consider the athletes it produces. Brian Dixon, the racquetball teacher at the Petaluma Valley Athletic Club, had five players bring home 10 medals for the Junior Nationals in Des Moines. Three of them won five golds.

They look like they stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, kids who should be living next door to you, selling baked goods for charity, mowing your grass for a glazed doughnut.

Lloyd, with partner Adam Manilla of Denver, won the gold in the 18-and-under doubles.

He is that polite, respectful college freshman you won’t fear destroying your rented apartment. James D’Ambrogia, 10, and a sixth-grader at Petaluma Junior High Charter school, won a gold along with partner Heather Mahoney in 10-and-under mixed doubles. Mahoney, 9, a third-grader at Corona Creek Elementary School, won three national titles — singles, doubles and in mixed doubles with D’Ambrogia. Mickey Mouse must be Mahoney’s and D’Ambrogia’s best friend, because that’s the kind of crowd these kids run with.

They look like All-American kids which, by the way, they are: All-Americans in racquetball.

Only Lloyd is going to Bolivia, however, the other two kids missing the trip due to their parents working, among other things.

Lloyd, 6-foot-2, has begun educating himself about Bolivia and has come to two conclusions thus far.

“There are a lot of beautiful women in Bolivia,” said Lloyd, who will go to UC Davis in the fall, “and you have to be careful what you eat.”

So does racquetball keep Lloyd up at night, excited about the next day? Well, yeah, especially if there are beautiful Bolivian women in the offing. He dreams of his life in racquetball, even when he’ll be training in Colorado Springs and he has to run The Incline, the monster climb of 2,000 feet to 8,500 feet in just .88 mile.

“I’ve never vomited yet doing it,” Lloyd said proudly.

He’s done The Incline twice already at previous U.S. Olympic Complex camps.

He knows each of the four afternoons in Colorado will have six hours of playing the game. Two mornings will have The Incline. Two other mornings will have a 3½-mile run to a quarter-mile track. A 12-minute situational run will follow, sprinting to a whistle blow, jogging until another whistle blows. Then the 3½-mile run back to the Olympic Complex.

Then collapse at night. I didn’t have to ask if there will be a smile on his face.

And after everything that’s been written, I don’t think I have to ask parents and kids in the Empire if they would go for this deal.

Unless, of course, you think being a U.S. national champion and representing America is underachieving. At 18.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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