A group of racquetball players that meet once a week at Forest View Racquet and Fitness Club in Arlington Heights seems to bear out all of the documented benefits of the sport: it burns fat, provides a good cardio workout -- players run as much as two miles during a one-hour game -- it strengthens balance and coordination, and it's social.
Just ask Gary McClung, 76, of Arlington Heights. He started the group exactly 40 years ago, and though locations and members have changed a bit, a core number of them defy their ages and credit their physical and emotional well-being to their weekly game of racquetball.
"We have become good friends over the years and are a support group when troubles arise, as they tend to do," McClung says. "Four of our members have had serious cancer issues this year, and racquetball night is a time to enjoy playing hard, forget one's troubles and then getting support from good friends at the bar afterward."
Admittedly, many of them were athletes to begin with. McClung played scholarship basketball at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s. Another player, Len Hochmuth, 69, of Mount Prospect played high school tennis and a year in college, while Joe Morton, 55, of Elk Grove Village played basketball at the old Arlington High School before playing at Cornell College in Iowa.
"I try to stay active," Morton says. "Between (racquetball) and biking, they're my main cardio workouts."
Hochmuth agrees, though he concedes he was drawn to racquetball as another racket sport.
"It's really good exercise," Hochmuth says, "and good for your coordination."
Another member is Steve Pierce of South Barrington, the former longtime pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights. He describes racquetball as an anaerobic exercise, with its short exertion and high-intensity movements that work to keep the heart rate up.
"For us, it's been a catalyst for friendship," Pierce says, "and that's as important as the game."
Doug Levy, 51, of Buffalo Grove joined the group last summer. After learning to play racquetball as a youngster, and then playing it recreationally in college, he looked for a club that still offered it when he had time as an adult.
"I love it because you have to adjust to different players' techniques," Levy says. "Some guys love the ceiling shot, while others love to drive kill shots. You have to figure out what to expect."
Nancy Alfonso, club manager at Forest View, concedes that the sport of racquetball is a good cardio workout that reinforces hand-eye coordination, but she sees an added benefit that McClung's group personifies: camaraderie.
"It seems like these guys have been here forever," Alfonso says. "They've formed a great network and really benefited from the sociability of the game."
It's that balance, she adds, of getting a great cardio workout and making meaningful friendships that advances one's overall health.