Greg Gaiera: The end of a lovely era as HealthSPORT closes its racquetball courts

RACQUETBALLERS Perhaps a quarter of the longstanding members of the once-thriving, now defunct HealthSPORT racquetball community at their last Saturday on the court. Submitted photo

Greg Gaiera
Special to the Union

I had been living in Arcata for a few years, and had started a new phase of my life. Not only had I just recently moved to Humboldt, but I was also beginning my teaching career and starting a family with my wife, Heather. 

Routines had always been (and still are) important to me. A routine at the time was to start every weekday morning with a workout at the Arcata HealthSPORT. 

My little school was right across the street, so I could get a half hour of cardio in, along with a little weight training and still be in my classroom with plenty of time to be ready for my class at 8:20.

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Post workout, I would make my way down the long hallway that leads from the weight room to the locker room. Work from local artists regularly decorated the hallway wall, but the most prominent items were a pair of benches that sat in front of the two racquetball courts.

 Over the preceding weeks, I would occasionally get pestered by a few of the morning racquetball regulars that would sit on the benches, post game.

“Come on, we need a fourth,” they would playfully heckle as I made my way to the locker room to shower.

Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what they were asking. They certainly didn’t fit four people into that tiny space, did they? As it turns out, they did, and that’s exactly what they were after. 

After a few weeks of this on and off taunting, I relented. And so began my apprenticeship in the HealthSPORT racquetball community almost 20 years ago. I began to fit racquetball into my weekly routine.

Over the years, with mentoring and lots of practice my game has improved. I learned how the “Doubles Dance” works and spent less time getting in people’s way and more time anticipating shots. I have taken a bit of pride in the fact that I stuck with it and got better. 

There were certainly times when I wanted to quit. A few times I actually did quit. But I always went back. I have talked with my teenage daughters about my experience with racquetball, and the life lessons that I learned from having a little bit of perseverance. They seem to listen. Usually, I didn’t get an eyeroll.

While I’ve won my share of games, I have also gotten trounced more than I care to admit. Honestly though, it has rarely been about winning. Some of my favorite memories are of rallies in games that I actually lost. 

It has always been thrilling for me to see a well-executed kill shot from deep in the back court, or to watch a splat that just dies on the front wall. I appreciated these shots even when they were from a player on another team because, more than likely, that player was a friend. 

That player was someone who, post game, probably sat on one of those hallway benches with me and talked about everything under the sun, and nothing in particular. We might even have spent some time playfully heckling other HealthSPORTmembers to join us because we “needed a fourth. 

I believe that there were more than a few players that spent more time sitting in the hallway then they did playing on the court. Not because they were losing games, but because they were checking in, catching up, or just laughing with friends.

For me, playing racquetball at HealthSPORT was as much about the small community of teachers, government employees, business owners, retired folk, and others as it was about anything else. 

Unfortunately, as of October 7, that community was disbanded. HealthSPORT decided that a larger weight room would be more economically viable than a couple of racquetball courts. 

As racquetball is a bit of a dying sport, they are probably right. From an economic standpoint, it makes sense. From where I was sitting on that hallway bench with my cohort of racquetball buddies though, it doesn’t make much sense at all. 

I don’t harbor any ill-will towards HealthSPORT Well, OK... maybe a little.  

I’ll eventually get over those hard feelings towards the club, though. Maybe on the last lap of one of my  helf-mile swims in their pool. It’s apparently time to start a new routine.

I try to remind myself that in the big picture, it is only racquetball. There are plenty of bigger problems in the world right now. 

But I think that having an arena that brings a diverse group of people together to form a strong, tight-knit little community is exactly the kind of thing everyone needs right now. The loss of time well spent with those people will be much, much harder to get over.

Greg Gaiera is an Arcata resident.



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