Brandon native Kurtis Cullen (foreground) battles Cameron Wachs in racquetball action at the Sportsplex back in April. (FILE PHOTO)
The last three months have been a huge change for Kurtis Cullen.
The 21-year-old Brandonite moved away from home for the first time in September and now he’s trying to make a living for himself and dedicating his life to racquetball in Hamilton, Ont. The move to Steeltown was inspired by a chance to train with Mike Green, the top-ranked racquetball player in Canada, and that’s exactly what Cullen has been doing.
It didn’t take long for Cullen to realize that his training regimen in Brandon was not going to help him improve in Hamilton as he kept losing practice games. So Cullen, who’s ranked 12th in the country, made a massive overhaul to his preparation.
"Back home I never really played anybody who was better than me, so I’d go to tournaments and lose and you’d pick a couple things up when you did lose because you lost for a reason," Cullen said via telephone. "When you’re out here and losing a couple times a week, you’re picking up those things a lot more quickly.
"It’s ‘Alright I’m not fast enough, I’m not strong enough,’ all these happen where you have to work on it. A lot of it isn’t on-court skills, a lot of it is strength training. Mike can pick up 200-pound weights and press them and in order to get that kind of strength you really need to put in the work in the gym."
That’s exactly what Cullen is doing. He’s put on 10 pounds since moving to Hamilton to add more muscle to his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame. His diet has also changed a bit as Cullen is now responsible for buying his own food and eating at proper times. It’s become a challenge at work — he’s a waiter at a Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar — as all the food there is deep-fried, which means he brings his own lunch to work instead. He also works late hours, which makes it a challenge to balance his job and training.
"It’s not easy because some days you don’t want to do it, but you do have to do it," he said. "… It’s hard, but you have to be really disciplined."
Facing Green on a regular basis has also made Cullen aware that he’s not as consistent as he needs to be, especially with his serve. Although he has beaten Green in two of their 85 practice games, Cullen said it’s mainly because Green was getting tired in his fifth straight contest of the day, which won’t happen in tournaments.
Although Cullen knows he’s not good enough yet to beat his training partner in a tournament, he knows he’s improving, which was evident at the Manitoba Open last month, the first national team selection event. Cullen was still tired from a tournament the week before and dropped his first game, but he played well after that to finish ninth overall. While disappointed with his finish, which hurt his chances of making the national team this season, his final three games did show how much he has improved.
"I didn’t play my best in that first game, but after that I played extremely well," Cullen said. "In that aspect I am really happy because I was beating guys on the Saturday and Sunday that usually I’d have closer games with, but I beat them handily, which was really nice."
His disappointing finish has also made him a more dangerous threat on the national racquetball scene as he has nothing to lose in his matches while others are trying to secure one of the four coveted spots. It has made him less of a challenge to Green as well, who has stepped up even more to mentor Cullen and help improve his game.
Cullen has now set a goal for himself to improve as much as he can this season so that he can make the squad next year, which he thinks is a real possibility.
"I do really think I could make it next year," he said. "I don’t think I deserve to make it this year, all the other guys are really good. I do believe I will get better more this year than they will, so next year will be a different story."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 24, 2013