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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mike Green has accumulated 14 Canadian racquetball titles

He remembers the first championship rather vividly. It was 2002 in Montreal. Doubles. Beat one of his best friends for the title.

The past four are right on the tip of his tongue, too. Then again, they were won last year and last weekend — singles and doubles, both — so dredging up the details of those moments isn’t exactly taxing his memory.

But you want details of the other nine? You’d get a quicker response if you asked him to name the capital cities of Palau, Dijbouti and Liechtenstein. Just listen.

Where’d he win Title No. 2 and who’d he beat to get it?

“I can’t remember,” Mike Green says after a long pause filled with more than a few umms and aahhs.

OK, how about No. 3?

“I can’t remember,” he says sheepishly after staring at the floor for a while. “I really can’t remember.”

Numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10?

“What year are we in?” he offers meekly, before pausing again, thinking hard and finally admitting defeat.

For the record, Green isn’t suffering from clinical memory loss, early onset Alzheimer’s or post-concussion syndrome. It’s just that when you’ve won 14 Canadian racquetball championships — seven singles and seven doubles — and have become one of the most-successful athletes in the sport, the big moments start to blend together.

He doesn’t even have trophies or medals to fall back on for memory refreshment. Most of the time, he didn’t get a keepsake for his victories. The few times he did, he stuffed them in a drawer and really isn’t sure where they are now.

So the wildly successful middle section of his career remains somewhat blurry, obscured in a haze of endless victories. Clearing up with last year’s wins and again at last weekend’s championships when he overwhelmed the second seed 15-4 and 15-6 in the singles final and teamed up with Kris Odegard to win the doubles 15-9 and 15-6.

Defending titles isn’t something new to him. From 2004 to ’07, he won four straight doubles crowns and from 2002 to ’04 he won three singles championships in a row.

What’s most remarkable about this is he’s still winning titles at a time he wasn’t even supposed to be in the game.

By his own acknowledgement, the Hamilton resident was done three years ago. Now nearly 38 — ancient in the racquetball world — he says the sport had essentially passed him by. His speed, power and mental edge were slipping and he’d started losing matches to guys he knows he should’ve crushed. After not coming up on the short end of the scoreboard in Canada for years, he began dropping matches on home soil. The intimidation factor he’d carried into the court was gone. Things reached the point where losing wasn’t even bothering him, which itself bothered him.

Green pulled back from playing 25 pro events to two, phasing himself out of the game and into his real estate work. It left him in a lousy spot. He could quit, knowing he’d regret that decision later. Or he could play on and lose more and more, knowing he’d regret that, too.

“Neither one was a good option,” Green says.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the old-folks’ home. He discovered a new fitness regimen built around hot yoga — “the fountain of youth,” he calls it — and started winning again. At least a decade older than most of his opponents, the magic returned with the passion in lockstep.

In January, he regained his No. 1 Canadian ranking. Then, last weekend in Antigonish, N.S., he defended both his national singles and doubles titles, lifting him to second all-time on the championship list. The wins qualified him for the Pan Am Games in October, which are his sport’s Olympics, since racquetball isn’t an Olympic sport.

Things are going so well now, he’s thinking of jumping back into the full-time racquetball loop next year. The long-term goal, though, is to stay on top long enough to play in the Pan Am Games in Hamilton in 2015. For inspiration, he’s found himself watching old guys in other sports. Mark Recchi is playing in the Stanley Cup final at 43. Jason Kidd is in the NBA final at 38.

“It’s all in your mind,” Green says. “I know I’m 37 but I don’t think I’m 37.”

Not when he’s winning, anyway.

One last thing. The capital cities of those countries are Ngerulmud, Dijbouti and Vaduz.

The details of those championships? Nah, he still can’t remember.

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