It is a sunny August day in the mountainous regions surrounding San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city. #8-ranked men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) player Felipe Camacho whizzes through the trails on his mountain bike, fully engulfed in the experience yet with the knowledge he needs to be in the gym soon. It was either this or surfing that day. Though his coaches and trainers are not thrilled with his love for his mountain bike or his need for the open waters of the Caribbean Sea, especially during the season, Camacho craves the outdoors. His path to professional racquetball started not far from here in 1998, when, at 10 years old he had his first racquetball lesson. “My dad used to play for fun and exercise in a club here in San Jose,” Camacho said. “One time I got on the court and started hitting the ball and the local coach saw me and approached my dad. He said I might have some potential.” Camacho’s father bought his son two lessons and from there he was hooked, competing in his first tournament just weeks later.
Racquetball in Costa Rica is growing but in the late 90’s it was still a very niche activity. “I was lucky to be surrounded by racquetball growing up, my family belonged to a great racquetball club, the San Jose Indoor Club.”
Camacho played many sports throughout his youth but would always travel for junior racquetball tournaments and would often come to the U.S. for World Championships. Besides racquetball he was also a very talented soccer player that was encouraged by coaches to pursue the sport full-time in the hopes of earning professional contracts. “Soccer is popular here in Costa Rica and I was dedicated to the sport but the offers I received to play professionally said I could not finish my education. My family and I thought it was best if I continued towards a degree.”
The final nudge towards racquetball happened at Junior Worlds where he won Bronze in the 18 and under division. “It was crazy, after that I was offered two racquetball scholarships to college. I immediately knew I wanted to continue racquetball and do it at Colorado State University–Pueblo (CSUP). They had all the best players and that is where I wanted to be.”
During that time, CSUP had one of the most impressive teams in college racquetball history. IRT professionals Mitch Williams, Ben Croft, Tony Carson and Charlie Pratt were all on the team there. During Camacho’s first year in college the team traveled to an IRT pro stop. It was the first time he had ever entered in the IRT Pro division. “I did not know racquetball could be like that. After my first experience with the IRT I knew I wanted to play pro when I graduated college.”
Camacho is now 28 and has just completed his first full season on the IRT. The choice for him to do so was apparent. “I knew I wanted to play against the best players in the world and the IRT has that. I also knew that this would be the best avenue for me to earn a living in the sport. If you want to be on top of the racquetball world, like I do, you need to be playing the IRT.” Camacho came out of the 2015-2016 IRT Season as one of the Tour’s trending topics. He made multiple quarterfinals as well as his first semifinal appearance. His progress to #8 came unexpected to some, but his lifelong dedication and his voracious work ethic have been consistent for years. This success has brought Camacho new sponsors and new attention. “I don’t think about success when I go to tournaments. I am not thinking about winning the match just each point at a time. I know if I give it my all the results will come.”
Camacho’s aspirations for titles and top ranking positions are things he views as a result of hard work and not goals in themselves. “More than numbers I have goals mentally. I want to stay more focused and be more levelheaded. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to win this tournament or finish this position. That would only lead to disappointment. I am focused on personal growth, especially mentally.”
Camacho’s most memorable moment of the 2015-2016 IRT Season was also his best win. In the Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City Pro/Am then #19-ranked Camacho beat #6 Ben Croft. Although Croft was returning from injury, beating a player of Croft’s caliber was no small accomplishment.
“My match with Ben Croft was probably one of my biggest highlights ever,” Camacho said. “It was one of his last matches and I beat him in Kansas and made a semifinal. I don’t think people understand that I always watched him since I was a junior. He was a player I liked to emulate. My mental game is structured after him too. For so many reasons you want to watch his matches. What can I say? I was his fan.” Camacho pauses and lets out a short laugh, “Off the court he is actually a really chill guy.”
Camacho is indeed one of the more fiery competitors on the Tour, often letting out primal roars during his matches. He also is quick to jump on a referee’s bad call, which earns him technicals. “I have been like that my whole life. The way I think about racquetball is like a fight, either they are going to knock me out or I am going to knock them out. If they knock me out they might kill me and I need to survive.” If this sounds like the mentality of a boxer or MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter then his workouts appear even more so. Especially in the offseason, he spends the bulk of his day in the gym with his coach and trainer. “I think my mentality stems from the way I train. I train like a fighter; it is a good mentality to have. You do not want to be hesitant. I do not want to get a punch from anyone that I cannot take.”
During the IRT season, Camacho spends most of his time in Del Ray Beach, Florida. He lives there with his coach Jeff Leon. This allows him to get to tournaments easier as most of the events are within the U.S. For now though, Camacho will be among family and his dedicated support system in Costa Rica. He will no doubt work as hard as any IRT pro in the off-season and come prepared for the first event of the 2016-2017 IRT Season.
Camacho hopes to one day get his masters in industrial engineering and spend more time on his surfboard and bike, but for now he remains a man possessed by a singularity of purpose to get to the top of the racquetball mountain. Much of Camacho’s life he has been an outsider looking in, but now he is a part of racquetball’s biggest show and only time will tell if he is a player who had one ambitious season or becomes a mainstay in the professional scene.
By Tim Prigo
IRT Writer, Tim Prigo, is a lifelong racquetball enthusiast who competed in his first tournament at ten years old in Claremont, California, where he grew up. Since then, Tim has played in many IRT events, ranking among the top 40 at his best. He earned a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Franklin Pierce University in 2009, where he spent many years abroad, traveling, and studying. In addition to regularly contributing stories and match recaps for the IRT, Tim is an aspiring poet and sports journalist. He also is the club pro at Lloyd Athletic in Portland, Oregon, where he now resides.