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It has taken a pandemic on a global scale, but if the current COVID-19 shutdown has taught us anything, it’s that there is one thing that can stop Edmonton’s Kane Waselenchuk from winning.
Otherwise, the world’s most dominant force in professional racquetball would be adding to his more than 600 overall match wins and 120 International Racquetball Tour Tier 1 singles titles.
One look at his 15 singles titles at the US Open — the sport’s most prestigious showcase event — and the 90-3 record he’s accumulated on the way to winning every year he’s entered, goes a long way to show why he’s called The King.
Instead, he’s at home in Austin, Texas, after winning the IRT Shamrock Shootout in Chicago on March 15, before tournaments shut down, beginning with Florida and Denver.
But he’s quick to point out the international health crisis will do nothing to end his winning ways.
“No, if they were going to let me play through it, it still wouldn’t have stopped me,” Waselenchuk said with a laugh. “Remember, I was forced to stop.
“I finished No. 1 last year, and am looking pretty good to finish No. 1 again this year, which feels kind of bittersweet a little bit. I’m happy that now I’ve got two less tournaments to worry about. Everything has kind of been on cruise control.”
Don’t get him wrong, he has earned the right to talk like someone who’s unbeatable because he’s the closest thing there is to it, perhaps in all of sports.
Still, he has appeared human at times. In the 2018 season, a knee injury meant he wouldn’t finish on top in points, ending a run of nine years in which he ended the season No. 1. Even then, he finished the season with a 24-2 record, with both losses coming by injury default. But he since has regained the throne.
But how much longer does he plan on sitting on it?
“I try not to think about it,” said Waselenchuk, 38. “I guess at this point you could say I don’t really do it for the accolades, it’s definitely more of a job now.
“I think it’s safe to say if I was to stop playing tomorrow, let’s just say two things: As for where I stand as far as the greatest players in the world, I really don’t feel like it would change anything.
“And if it did end tomorrow, I could probably sit back and say that I did pretty damn good for myself too. A little country Canadian boy that used to throw hay bales, you know?”
Anyone who has followed Waselenchuk’s career from its humble yet promising beginnings in Edmonton — which he left on Christmas Eve at age 19 with a duffel bag of clothes and $1,000 in his pocket, never to look back — also likely remembers racquetball when the sport was at its zenith in the 1980s.
And now, the streaming generation will have a chance to find out about the city’s best-kept sports secret in an upcoming documentary on racquetball’s king that is being undertaken by director Timothy Blackwood.
“He’s been getting a bunch of awards all around the world at film festivals,” Waselenchuk said of Blackwood’s The Conqueror . “It’s a cool little process. So we’re just trying to get some content.
“When everything all kind of gets settled down and whatever, we’re going to go back home, back to Edmonton there and I’ll show him my grandma’s house and where I used to play and all that kind of stuff.”
But that was an entire lifetime ago for his former 19-year-old self.
These days, his sights are set on the tour getting back up and running as early as June 11, with a Grand Slam event scheduled for Atlanta.
“I’m pretty confident that the June one will go, hopefully. That’s almost two and a half months away, there should be some sort of direction by then,” said Waselenchuk.
In the meantime, he will use his down time to rest up and train as best he can.
“All the gyms are closed here and everything. I’m not playing at all, but I’m still training,” he said. “I’ve got really nowhere to play, I mean, I could wreck my girlfriend’s garage in 15 minutes, if I wanted to.
“But, no, I haven’t really been hitting and it’s kind of nice too. It’s given me an opportunity to really focus on getting my body right. And, of course, I’m 38, so this little break isn’t all that bad. It hurts me financially, but as far as my body and being prepared, obviously it helps me.”
With all he’s accomplished, Waselenchuk is a living case study when it comes to success and if there is ever enough.
“Every time I step on the court, I’ve got nothing to gain by competing at this point,” he said. “I really have everything to lose, because the next guy that I lose to, his whole career is going to be defined by that one match he won. No one is going to care about anything else. He’s always going to be known as the guy who beat Kane.
“And, look, I’ve created this monster for myself. And I’m glad that I did.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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