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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Naples athlete has racket playing racquetball

Geoff Hunter, owner of Naples Fitness Center, won the singles racquetball gold medal in the men’s 50-54 age group at the National Senior Games in Houston on June 26.

Though Hunter, who grew up in Painesville, Ohio, about 20 miles outside of Cleveland, had been playing the sport nearly his whole life, his gold-medal performance proved to be his crowning achievement.

“It only took me 40 years to win a national title,” said Hunter, 51. “It might take another 40 to win another title.”

Besides the singles title, Hunter also partnered with Orlando’s Ken Drew to win the bronze medal in doubles competition.

The National Senior Games are the seniors’ equivalent to the Olympics, except they’re held every two years instead of every four. It is the largest seniors event in the world with competitions in numerous sports, from archery to track and field to volleyball.

An athlete must be at least 50 years old in order to qualify to compete. This was Hunter’s first year of eligibility and he took advantage of it.

“I felt my first year was my best chance to make an impact,” said Hunter, who won the Florida State Senior Games title in December to qualify for Houston. The racquetball event was hosted by the Naples Fitness Center.

“Conditioning and stamina are the best aspects of my game,” Hunter said. “And my big thing is I’m fast. I knew I’d be in position to execute. In racquetball, it’s all about serve and return. I knew I’d be in good position to compete. It was about keeping my nose down and staying focused.”

Besides his exploits in racquetball, Hunter is also an avid handball player among other sports.

“If it requires chasing a ball,” Hunter said, “I play it.”

Hunter is also a PGA golf pro, having served as the golf pro at Hunter’s Ridge in Bonita Springs for many years.

Hunter said he finds the mental and physical workout he derives from racquetball compelling. He also credits the high level of competition in Florida for his success.

“We’re fortunate to have so many high quality players here in the state and at Naples Fitness Center,” he said. “It’s easy to test your skills around here.”

Racquetball is also a family affair for Hunter, who used to play with his wife, Tracy. Their three children, Geoff Jr., 22, Paige, 21 and Matt, 18 all play the sport. And like their father, Geoff Jr., a student at Florida State, and Matt, who attends college in Baltimore, both play other sports that require chasing a ball.

Geoff Jr. played tennis and lacrosse, while Matt also plays lacrosse.

“They get a good foundation from racquetball in terms of footwork and hand-eye coordination,” Hunter said. “They’re used to chasing a ball, seeing it and are able to hit it on the run.”

As for Hunter himself, who will compete in the state doubles championship tournament in Sarasota in August, he said he’ll play racquetball for the foreseeable future — even the 2013 Senior Games, which will be held in Cleveland.

“The great thing about racquetball is you can play it your all your life,” Hunter said. “I’m 51 and I’ll be playing when I’m 81.”

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