Dave Hart, 55, racquetball pro, Minneapolis
When the National Senior Games of racquetball come to Minneapolis in 2015, Dave Hart plans to be one of the 15,000 athletes competing. The multiple state singles and doubles champion rededicated himself to playing last summer to get in shape for the event.
Pro-active: "When I was a kid, I always dreamed of being a pro athlete. But I was 5 feet 8 -- a little too short to be a middle linebacker. Racquetball fit my size and I had the dedication and foresight to practice."
Learning from teaching: "I grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Minnesota, but I moved to the Twin Cities when I was 14. I was working at the Coon Rapids golf course, and they had two courts there, so after work I'd go hit the ball around. The golf pro saw me play and said, 'You're going to give group lessons.' So I got certified and went from there."
Heart of an athlete: "I wanted to see what kind of shape I was in going in [to training again], so I took a treadmill test last August. The doctor said I was a world-class athlete as far as my heart. So I was pleasantly surprised, and I knew I could go into training as hard as I could at my age."
Total body workout: "I play three or four times a week, practice twice and take one day off to rest. Now that I'm in halfway decent shape, I'm also doing weight training for strength and yoga for flexibility and the elliptical for cardio. And I'm eating six smaller meals a day. I've taken off 37 pounds, and I have 17 more to go to get to 180 by April.
"People don't know that of all the club exercises, racquetball is the best in terms of cardio and calories: You run about 1.5 miles during an average match, and you burn 600 to 700 calories per hour. The only two sports that burn more calories per hour are swimming and cross-country skiing."
Strategy: "When I practice, I'll practice specific serves and shots for 30 minutes. I'm really focused and hitting a lot of balls in that half-hour. What people don't realize is that you're sharpening your mind as well as your body. You have to develop strategy and react quickly to 130- to 150-mile-per-hour shots. When you're playing at the pro level, you have a [few] game plans before you even play. You hit a certain shot to force the outcome. You're always working a shot or two ahead, changing your strategy as they're changing theirs."
Eye on the ball: "[Getting hit] is part of the game. I wear eye guards, because you never know when the ball's going to come off the racquet funny. Better players aren't going to get you as much because they've got control of the ball."
Off the couch: "I've played for over 37 years. I'm old for racquetball; it relies so much on speed and quickness. I'm relying more on experience and smarts. There are only a couple of guys who are 55 and actually practicing and training. Most quit in their 30s because it's too hard of a game; it's too physical and it requires cardiovascular shape. It's a lot easier to sit around and watch football."
SHEILA MULROONEY ELDRED,
SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE