Tinker competitor brings home top military racquetball honors

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Staff Writer
He's ranked No. 64 in the world and No. 1 in the Armed Forces. Tinker's own, Capt. Charles "CJ" Shaffer Jr., is a racquetball king.

The 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron air battle manager recently competed in and won the military division of the 2011 Ektelon National Singles Championships in Fullerton, Calif. In the event sponsored by the racquetball sub-division of Prince Sports, Shaffer beat out players from the Coast Guard, Navy, Marines and Army.

"This win means the world to me," Shaffer said. "The first time they had this tournament was four years ago and I had to forfeit the semi-finals match because my wife went into labor. I've had winning that particular division on my mind for the last several years. To win was awesome, to say the least."

It should be of no surprise Shaffer picked up the sport. Both of his parents played. His mother played semi-pro on Panama's team and his father played on the Air Force team. When Shaffer was roughly 8 years old, he remembers playing with his parents every weekend.

But, the motivation to be something amazing came when he met Sudsy Monchik, a five-time Pro-World champion. At the time, the family had been stationed in Panama and Monchik hosted a clinic for young racquetball players.

"I was in awe of his level of racquetball and how hard he'd hit the ball," Shaffer, 33, said. "He inspired me to get to the level I'm at now; I play at a pro level. I've always tried to duplicate what I saw him do."

Following high school graduation in 1995, Shaffer enlisted in the Air Force. In 2004, as a college student, his racquetball coach tried to convince him to put his college education on hold and give the racquetball circuit a try for at least two full seasons.

"He thought I'd be a top-10 player, but I never had the guts to do it," he said. "I had met my wife and even though we didn't have kids at the time, I had my mind made up of what my priorities -- getting married to her and getting a career started -- were."

Shaffer said had he tried making a career of racquetball he would have had to commit to daily workouts and practices, plus traveling around the world for matches and tournaments.

"Racquetball is very challenging," Shaffer said. "The reason I love the sport is it's mentally and physically challenging. You have to outsmart your opponent on the court, which is kind of like a mini game of chess, while at the same time use your physical abilities to win games and matches."

Even though he hasn't made it to the No. 1 worldwide ranked spot, Shaffer remains dedicated to being a top player, even with a full-time job, a wife and four children. These days, Shaffer practices an-hour-and-a-half three times a week during his lunch break. He also does other cardio activities and lifts weights and plays in 15 to 20 tournaments a year.

Prior to a match, Shaffer said he can be found listening to AC/DC on his iPod. He stretches for 20 minutes, rides a stationary bike and practices his forehand and backhand swings. During that time he doesn't talk anyone, but mentally prepares himself for the upcoming game.

"Intensity during the match is huge, although I've been accused of being over-intense on the court," he said with a laugh. "A lot of people, who haven't seen the game at a tournament level, don't realize we're hitting the ball up toward 200 mph. It's moving fast. If you just go down to the gym here on base, you'll probably see it go about 70 to 75 mph."

Following his graduation and commission in 2006, Shaffer has made the Air Force Racquetball Team three times.

This past time, he was one of roughly 900 Air Force players who applied to be on the Air Force team and among the 14 who made it.

During the tournament, Shaffer reached the semi-finals in the Elite, a non-military division, and the finals in the Military Opens. He lost the first game and forfeited the second match after he rolled his ankle in the Elite division.

Using the time to rest and treat his ankle, he went back the next day for the Military Opens' and played, what he said, was one of the worst matches in the past 10 years.

"I lost 15-4 in the first game," he said. "I got blown out."

The second game, he came back and won 15-12. He won the tiebreaking third game 11-7.

"I went in there the second game and was real patient. It was another close game, as was the third game," Shaffer said. "I never got my 'A-game' so to speak. I won with my 'C-game,' to be honest."

But, it was still a win and those who know him on base aren't surprised by the accomplishment.

"If you meet him and talk to him, you would not assume he is one of the best racquetball players in the world," said Lt. Col. George "Patton" Wilson, 963rd AACS commander. "He is always upbeat and happy, not too many things get him down, which is probably why he has been so successful."

Bob Cole, a fellow competitive racquetball player from Tinker, agreed.

"The only things I can say about Shaffer is he is a fierce competitor and you better bring your 'A' game if you're going to compete with him."