When Adam Manilla was still a small boy just 7 or 8 years old, his father would take him to the gym and give him the option of spending his time in the day care or locked inside a racquetball court where he was free to play.
He chose the racquetball court every time. Little did his father know, it was the start of a big part of his son's future.
Manilla, a 20-year-old University of Colorado sophomore, recently won the men's singles title at the U.S. National Intercollegiate Championships at Arizona State. Manilla is the reigning 18-under national champion and won his latest title by defeating an opponent ranked eighth in the professional International Racquetball Tour.
"Racquetball is kind of my life now," Manilla said. "I do racquetball and school and that's about it."
Manilla also won the men's doubles title with fellow CU student Nick Riffel. Both Buffs are now qualified for the 2015-16 U.S. National Team. The duo has competed together internationally in the past in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia.
Their performance helped the CU team finish third at the intercollegiate nationals and they're hoping that success will help attract more members to the team in the future. It wouldn't be a surprise to see their accomplishment highlighted during halftime of a CU football game next fall. Manilla will be competing again this week at the Mile High Racquetball Pro/Am at the Denver Athletic Club.
Not long after he first started teaching himself to play on the courts at his dad's gym, Manilla joined a Saturday racquetball club and several years later he entered his first national junior tournament as a 9-year-old.
"The first year I got completely slaughtered, but I kept working," Manilla said. "When I was about 11 I won my first national tournament. From there on, I kept playing and practicing and here I am today."
He won his first national title in a junior tournament at 11. The tournaments generally last three or four days and are single-elimination draws, which makes an athlete focus just a bit more when traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to participate. Matches consist of two or three games to 15 points.
Manilla grew up in Aurora and attended Regis Jesuit High School before coming to Boulder and CU.
Manilla said he was always drawn to the friendliness of the people in the sport even through highly competitive situations. Manilla was ranked 54th in the USA Racquetball rankings and fifth among college players before the collegiate nationals. He has also played in several pro tournaments but is still waiting for a breakthrough performance at that level.
Having just accomplished one of his larger goals in the sport by winning the collegiate national title, Manilla said there is still a long way to go. He plans to enter an adult national tournament in Denver later in May, and winning there would be another big feather in his cap.
Manilla is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at CU, but he isn't sure how he plans to use it just yet. He would love to find a way to combine one passion with another and possibly design something that furthers his sport. He's still brainstorming.
"The ultimate goal for me is to play the pro circuit and to eventually end up No. 1 on the pro tour," Manilla said. "That's kind of my dream goal that I'm striving for right now.
"There is always someone better. So it's a good drive to keep on going to be as good as you possibly can."
Kyle Ringo: email@example.com, on Twitter: @kyleringo