When thinking about activities an average 3-year-old might partake in, building blocks, Legos and crayons might come to mind. But Jack Huczek, the International Racquetball Tour's No. 2-ranked player, started playing in racquetball tournaments at the age of 3.
By the time he was 8, Huczek competed nationally as a junior. Today he is 26 and in the middle of his seventh season on the professional tour.
Huczek said that it was his mother, Sharon, who got him interested in the sport when he was just 2 years old.
"I played all sports growing up," Huczek said. "My mom got me involved in everything. I took a liking to racquetball. I had a lot of energy to burn off so it was a cheap babysitter for my parents. They could just lock me in a racquetball court and I could just run around."
Huczek's early start in the sport certainly paid off. He spent the better part of the last five years perched atop the ITA rankings at either No. 1 or No. 2. He is a three-time winner (2003, 2007, 2008) of the IRT Pro Nationals-the sport's prestigious season-ending tournament.
"I'm very much appreciative of what I've accomplished and I feel very lucky to be in the position that I'm in," Huczek said. "At the same time I know there is still gas left in the tank and there are still things I want to achieve. I think the biggest and best have yet to come."
When Huczek talks about his bright future, he is not talking solely about his future on the racquetball court. Over the past seven and a half years, while he traveled the country becoming one of the world's most accomplished racquetball players, he took classes at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.
According to Huczek, approximately 80 percent of Oakland's students commute from the Detroit area, and many of them work in the automotive industry. It's common for students to work full time while attempting to earn their undergraduate degrees, so Oakland offers many classes that meet once or twice a week in the evenings.
That allowed Huczek to attend classes Monday through Wednesday and play a full IRT tournament schedule Thursday through Sunday. He earned his undergraduate degree in general business in 2005 and earned his MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship this past December.
"At this point in my life, what I've been most proud of is getting my education completed while being able to earn and maintain the No. 1 ranking in the sport," Huczek said. "I knew that it was very important for me to focus on the long-term goals and objectives, and that was to prepare myself for life after racquetball, and I think I've done that."
Huczek said that he does not yet know what he wants to do when his professional racquetball career comes to an end, but he already is more proactive about his post-racquetball career.
"I hope to gain some work experience while I continue playing racquetball and I've already started doing that by being more hands-on with my sponsors," Huczek said. "I'd like to get involved in the marketing and sales end of things as far as designing new products and creating new racquets."
Huczek juggles those professional endeavors with a grueling training regimen as he attempts to maintain his high IRT ranking. A typical day involves three to six hours of training, including one to two hours on the court. The rest of the time is spent lifting weights or running outside.
Huczek's training routine recently was boosted by a move from his home state of Michigan to Dallas. Huczek originally made the move to be with his girlfriend, but he found the added incentive of more capable training partners.
"There are a half a dozen guys here in Dallas that I can hit with and train with where I lacked that in Michigan," Huczek said. "It's a lot more motivating to be in a place where you have people to play with, and that has sort of re-energized me."
The IRT is in the middle of its 2008-09 season, which runs from September through May. When it comes to on-court goals for the remainder of this season, Huczek has his sights set on a third straight Pro Nationals title. This year's tournament will be held in Chicago on portable courts on Navy Pier.
Huczek hopes that holding the tournament at one of the country's biggest tourist attractions will give the sport of racquetball some exposure that it deserves.
"We're expecting thousands of people to stop by and watch," Huczek said. "It should be a historic moment for racquetball."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Matt Thomas is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.