Ruben Gonzalez: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

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It’s a shame that more people do not know about the racquetball phenomenon, Ruben Gonzalez. The plain truth is that it’s a travesty! The amount of time alone that Ruben Gonzalez has given to the sport of racquetball should be enough on its own merit to put his name at the helm of the racquetball world. However, Ruben Gonzalez is more than just a player with a long career.

Hopefully this helps; a sports-related metaphor to describe Gonzalez is to compare his game, not personality, to the likes of Ray Lewis, veteran all-pro linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis is most famously known for his hard-hitting, confident swagger that he carries with himself on and off the football field. What Ray Lewis has brought to the game of football, is exactly what Ruben Gonzalez has brought to racquetball. Ray Lewis talks a big game, but what set him apart from all the other talkers, is that he continually backs up his word. Nowadays, Gonzalez’ demeanor as a quiet, relaxed, champion that lets his play do the talking is uncommon. His confidence is unmatched and his knowledge and belief in himself is uncanny. How does an almost 60-year-old man believe in himself to such an extent that he can manage to play professional racquetball? Honestly, the true identity of Gonzalez’s super powers may never be revealed. However, all super heroes have their tagline. “It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s Superman,” is one of the many to describe Metropolis’ crime fighter. But, then there is Ruben Gonzalez. He is The Man…The Myth…The Legend. Cliché, maybe, but true, oh most definitely!

The Man

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The qualities that define a man are not those of macho-esque abilities, but those of hard work, discipline, patience, humility, etc. These are qualities that are not so easy to attain, and even harder to hold on to. From picking on Gonzalez’s brain for insight into his life and rich racquetball career, it is easy to see, right off the bat, that Gonzalez possesses all of these above qualities. Better yet, they are all strong within him. Gonzalez’s personality is so easily felt and apparent that it begs the question, “who is he?” Ruben Gonzalez grew up on the streets of Spanish Harlem in New York City. Gonzalez, at a young age became involved in gangs, where he became a member of the Harlem Blues. Living out on the streets and being in a gang was all that young Ruben knew. A tough upbringing may have been the secret to success for how Gonzalez would live the rest of his life. The day-to-day street life would in some part be his introduction into the sport of racquetball. But before racquetball, Gonzalez was playing handball for small bets against NYC’s finest. Handball would be Gonzalez’s “gateway” into racquetball. Gonzalez played his heart out, every time. His survival instincts from Spanish Harlem have afforded Gonzalez with the will to never give up. This mentality would carry over to the sport of racquetball. Ruben Gonzalez is a stand out individual with the heart of a champion. Talking to Gonzalez now, in 2012, sounds a lot like the Gonzalez that you might have heard in the 1970s. So now, The Man continues on his journey as he attempts to break into the top 10 of the pro rankings by the end of the 2011-2012 IRT season. Believe it or not, Gonzalez is edging closer and closer to his self-applied challenge. It will be tough, but if anyone can do it, it would Ruben Gonzalez.

The Myth

The Myth, this is not to suggest that Gonzalez does not exist and that what he has done during his racquetball career 

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never happened. The Myth is meant to try and explain how Ruben Gonzalez can play so competitive for so long. Most professional athletes cannot play their sport in their late 50s early 60s. However, Ruben Gonzalez doesn’t seem to bother about aging. Physiologically, this should be extremely difficult. In males, fat-free mass (FFM) peaks around late 20s to early 30s and will decline approximately 0.5 lbs./year. Fat-free mass consists of skeletal muscle mass, bone mineral density, organ mass, and total body water. For any athlete, a declining loss of these physiological components could be detrimental to performance, stamina, injury prevention, aerobic endurance, and overall ability to generate power. Yet, Ruben Gonzalez is in full swing. So then does the biological aging process not affect Gonzalez? The short answer is yes, just like every other human. Yet the long answer is maybe not so much. There are three factors that may influence and retard the aging process. These factors are: Total number of calories consumed, non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and performing moderate amounts of physical exercise. This may answer a small piece of how Gonzalez has maintained his level of play. Perhaps through Gonzalez’s conditioning and training he has a younger biological age than his chronological age. Still, it doesn’t answer everything. With a sharp mind and a tough mental game, Ruben Gonzalez can still control a racquetball game just like he used run the streets of Spanish Harlem. The Myth may forever remain a mystery.

The Legend

Ruben Gonzalez may be The Man and he may be The Myth, but his career in racquetball has surpassed expectations and has elevated him to become a legend. Gonzalez is well known around the world of racquetball. Generations of players know of Ruben Gonzalez. Of all the great players that have ever stepped out onto the court, Ruben Gonzalez will always remain on the very top of that list. Ektelon, Gonzalez’s longtime sponsor has teamed up together to create and promote a signature racquet for their longtime player. Gonzalez wanted to create a racquet that reminded him of that old school feel with the new school technology; and the EXO3 RG Toron by Ektelon was born. This move may make the sports fan think of “His Airness”, Michael Jordan, and his signature shoes that completely changed the culture of basketball and its surroundings. Hopefully, the Ekteleon EXO3 RG Toron racquet, inspired by Ruben Gonzalez, will have that same impact on the sport of racquetball that Michael Jordan and his shoes did for basketball. Along with his signature racquet, Gonzalez is fueling his own fire to expand and emphasize his run to the top 10 before he retires. Gonzalez mentioned that his age is no factor. It is not a thought in his mind. Ruben Gonzalez believes that he can and will defy the odds. His goal may better be defined as a plan of action. To accomplish this feat of competing in the top 10 of the pro racquetball rankings at the young age of 60 is a record that will outlast the ages. It proves that longevity is of crucial importance if playing competitively is what a player warrants. It means that correct training with education of one’s own body and abilities, along with proper nutrition, rest, and a clear mind are necessary to foster now to maintain and even improve over time. Ruben Gonzalez is not just a legend because of what he has accomplished on the courts, it’s about what he has accomplished off the courts. Ruben Gonzalez has inspired players and fans of all ages and skill levels. Defying the laws of almost every physiological trend, people see Gonzalez as a statue for hard work and discipline. When times are tough and you’re stuck deep in a hole, losing point after point, and there is no vision of ever serving the ball again, there is always a reason to keep pushing through the pain. There is no time for crying and kvetching. And giving up is never an option. The most important bit of information that Ruben Gonzalez teaches us is that you can never quit on yourself in racquetball and in life. You can do this, because he showed that you can.

By Brendan Giljam