In a tight match during the 2014 Cactus Salon NYC IRT Pro/Am, Alvaro Beltran turned to the backcourt — and grinned. His sense of humor is as renowned as his smooth style of play. Don’t be fooled. Beneath the easy-going demeanor is a competitor who has climbed up the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) pro ranks, dropped down after surgery, and charged back to the top. The 36th person to take a top-tier tournament entered the exclusive “Tier 1 Champions Club” nearly three years after questioning whether he’d ever compete at the elite level of racquetball again.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Alvaro said in a November 2010 interview. “I’d been doing everything right and training hard when I injured my knee two weeks before the first tournament of last season.” That 2008-2009 IRT season marked Kane Waselenchuk’s re-entry to the Tour after a two-year absence. Only Beltran’s victory in the semifinals of January’s 2009 California IRT Open marred Waselenchuk’s nearly perfect record.
Expectations were high for Beltran the next fall. But the injury forced his withdrawal from the season opener, the 2009 Novasors Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City IRT ProAm. Missing the first event left him wondering how to deal with sitting out having competed in almost every top-tier tournament since entering the 2000 Stockton Pro/Am, making three semifinals during his rookie season alone.
As players took to the courts, Beltran knew that his professional racquetball career could be over. “I had mixed feelings because knee injuries are serious, especially for our sport. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I had surgery, therapy, and started working out.” While recovering in January, he watched the 2010 Coast to Coast California Open and thought, “Wow, they’re tough.” Mentally shaken, he questioned whether he’d ever play at such a high level again. He continued therapy and training, finally able to enter his first and only event near the end of the season. He reached the semifinals. “That’s where I knew I could come back. I’d only played for two weeks so I was thrilled and happy I could play again.”
After arriving in Kansas City for the 2010 opener seeded #15, he pushed through four matches, including a grueling 5-game victory against #2 Jack Huczek. Reaching the quarterfinals came at a cost. His injuries hadn’t healed right. An MRI revealed he’d have to get surgery again, on both knees. Still, he wanted to play on racquetball’s biggest stage the following month. Entering the US Open ranked #18 meant he had to qualify for the pro draw. He played through #50, #15, #2, and #7 to make the finals, where he lost to #1 Kane Waselenchuk in four games. “I was just enjoying every second on the court before I had to go back into the hospital.” He put off surgery to play in two more tournaments, stopping only after forfeiting the first and losing in the round of sixteen of the second. He finally went under the knife.
He recuperated over the summer and came back for the 2011-2012 IRT season ranked #11, reaching #5 the next year, and ending last season at #3 – the high career mark he’d first set during 2007-2008 IRT Season. At 35-years-old, the best player to come out of Mexico has been ranked in the top six for 11 of the past 13 years and competed in 147 top pro stops for 28 career finals appearances. As of this writing, he’s reached at least the semifinals of every event this season, made the finals in the New York, and won his first championship (excluding an uncontested 2002 victory in Virginia) at the 2013 Red Swain IRT Shootout in Michigan. After career highs and lows, veteran IRT pro, Alvaro Beltran, has shown that he’s back, healthy, in shape, and poised to continue winning world-class racquetball.