Lenny Estrada says he remembers his younger days as a “typical racquetball gym rat” in the 1980s while playing at a club in Anaheim owned by RO Carson, father of International Racquetball Tour (IRT) pro, Rocky Carson. “I worked there, so I got free court time. I played every day if I could. It was like I lived there,” said Estrada, 51, who now lives in Bend, Oregon. “In fact, I remember when Rocky’s mother was pregnant with him. That’s how far back I go with the Carson family.”
A tournament B-level player, Estrada maintained his active love affair with racquetball until eight years ago, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. “This type of cancer typically affects children, not adults,” Estrada said. “I have been fighting it since then, and four surgeries and radiation treatments left me exhausted.” He now walks with a brace on his left leg and uses a cane. “I often feel off-balance, sometimes I fall down. Still, I am here. But I love and miss racquetball.”
Earlier this year his sister, Lisa, helped arrange a “special wish come true” for Lenny to visit an IRT pro stop in May. However, other issues related to the cancer forced that trip to be cancelled. He was able to travel to Portland a short time later to watch the ProKennex Tournament of Champions where he was reunited with family, old racquetball friends, and Rocky Carson. “The Tournament of Champions was an unbelievable experience, a dream. The last time I watched a pro tournament in person Marty Hogan was the top player and the tournament was in California.”
Recently, Estrada learned he would be given a second chance to experience a professional tournament, this time at the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Championships. “I can’t believe it because I have heard the US Open is really something else.” Estrada said he was “humbled and overwhelmed” that strangers like Jason Mannino, president of the IRT, US OPEN Tournament Director, Doug Ganim, Carson and Kane Waselenchuk have reached out to him to lend their assistance in making sure his journey to the OPEN is seamless.
“I am supposed to have VIP seating, and will get to talk with the pros and guys like Rocky and Kane. It is really unbelievable. It is very gratifying to have so many people helping me achieve this dream.” The trip will reunite Estrada not only with players and friends, but with the racquetball life that is now a distant memory.
“For a long time racquetball was an important part of my life, the best part of my life.” Estrada added he is aware of the challenges he faces after eight years of cancer treatments. “I understand how serious this is. Cancer takes lives.” Estrada lost his wife to cancer in 2013. “She was healthy and took care of me until she developed cancer. Still, I believe God put me here for a purpose, and has something for me to do. Right now I feel strong.”
Estrada credits his years of playing racquetball for his ability to deal with his illness now. “I truly believe racquetball kept me in good physical condition and strengthened me. It made me what I am today and gave me the strength to fight through this.” Estrada had another surgery in August to remove more tumors, but for now says he is at his best. “I really feel good right now, and I am looking forward to traveling to Minneapolis. said the American Cancer Society volunteer. The generosity of others has rejuvenated his spirit and soul, and he looks forward to watching pros and amateurs play at the US OPEN, and hearing the familiar smack of racquetballs against the wall.
“I know when I watch them play I will feel like I wish I could get out there on a court playing myself, although I know I can’t. Still, I love racquetball, the competition, the social aspect, the whole culture of it. “I am blessed.”