Life Time goes all in: Forges ahead with world-class events and coaching staff
Like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out in the ring, six-time world No. 1 Cliff Swain and five-time world No. 1 Sudsy Monchik battled on the racquetball court as they traded world championship honors during their legendary careers on the pro tour.
Now, the two legends are joining forces with another heavyweight in the health club industry, Life Time - Healthy Way of Life, to promote racquetball and all of the health and wellness benefits the sport has to offer.
Swain, Monchik, and Life Time are a combined powerhouse in the industry like no other. Their collaboration in hosting camps, clinics and lessons at Life Time destinations across the country, as well as promoting a healthy way of life, is leaving a lasting impression on players of all ages and skill levels.
Life Time CEO and founder Bahram Akradi recently described his vision on the future of the company to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
“Our goal is to build as a company a brand that is just like Disney,” Akradi told the Journal. “If you look at Disney, it’s about a 100-year-old company. Where were they when they were 25 years old? Life Time is on year 25. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t be at 100,000 employees 25 years from now.
“We want to have a macro impact on the health and well-being and happiness of people who live in North America. That’s the goal. We’re in a place where can really build a great company but yet feel so fantastic about what we’re doing for the community and people.”
Life Time has more than 127 resort-style clubs in 27 states and Canada and has more than 30,000 employees, with a plan to open about 30 more clubs by the end of 2019. Forty-three clubs in 12 states have racquetball — 125 total courts — and are maintained by 45 racquetball coordinators. The racquetball programs conduct 210 league sessions per year and 62 tournaments with more than 20,000 players.
Gearbox, Life Time’s national partner and sponsor, provides sponsorships for racquetball coordinators and its ball is the official ball for all leagues. Life Time sells Gearbox products exclusively, and the two companies share the common goal of growing racquetball.
Gearbox’s professional team visits Life Time clubs and conducts exhibitions, demos, and shootouts.
Life Time Athletic Target Center — National and International Event Host
Racquetball and its resurgence across the United States plays a significant role in Life Time’s vision, including hosting the annual UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships in Minnesota eight years in a row, since 2010.
“Life Time has made a tremendous commitment to the sport of racquetball on many different levels,” said Doug Ganim, director of the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN. “However, at the top of the list is the fact that they have stepped up to be the official host site for the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN, the world’s largest and most prestigious racquetball event.
“Life Time is so much more than just a host for the US OPEN. They are a true partner in every way. The leadership team is committed to participating in the year-round planning of the event and is always at the forefront to improve the experience for players and fans. We could not have asked for a better partner.”
Not only is Life Time making its mark on racquetball in the United States, it’s impacting players from all over the world.
“Life Time Athletic Target Center is the home for the 2017 IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships (November 5-12), and it is a pleasure for the IRF to bring a major international event back to the United States,” said Luke St. Onge, Secretary General of the International Racquetball Federation. “The venue is an excellent place to showcase the best junior players in the world. We are happy to partner with Life Time on this event, and we applaud their commitment to expanding the sport worldwide.”
Life Time hosted the 2016 Junior Olympics at the Fridley, Minnesota, location and has hosted three World Racquetball Tour (WRT) Pro/Am tournaments in 2017 with a fourth scheduled for December in Dallas.
World Class Coaching Staff
Bringing in racquetball big guns like Swain and Monchik is another way Life Time is asserting its dominance in racquetball as well as in the health and fitness industry. Their accolades on the court are endless. Their battles on the court are legendary. Now, Swain and Monchik are coaching some of the most well known up-and-coming players in the world through their extensive tour of camps at Life Time locations everywhere. Swain and Monchik are providing camps, clinics, and lessons throughout the United States in 2017 and 2018.
And no one is left behind. Swain and Monchik may coach some of the top players in the world, but the clinics at Life Time are for everyone — junior players just getting started or the recreational player wanting to step on the court with a couple of legends. No man, woman, or child is excluded from a chance to participate.
“We love racquetball to the extreme at Life Time,” said John Wilinski, National Manager of racquetball and squash at Life Time. “We’ve been working hard for the last 10 years to build the best-in-class courts, leagues, lessons, tournaments, camps, and junior programs. We’re seeing growth and forging new partnerships every year. It goes to show, if there’s a will there’s a way. We won’t give up until racquetball is on top again, recognized as the premier sport that it is.”
With 11 world titles between them, Swain and Monchik are two of the greatest of all time. Now, they have joined Life Time to promote racquetball, grow the sport, and provide members and non-members alike with a chance to step on the court with a pair of world champions.
“Life Time has been a great experience for me,” Swain said. “The facilities are stunning, especially the club at the Target Center. It’s one of the nicest facilities in the world, and I’m lucky to call it a home club. John Wilinski is an expert in promotion and advertising, and his work ethic is spectacular. I love learning from him. After visiting here two years ago and seeing all of the potential here for racquetball, I was hooked immediately.
“When I travel around the country to other Life Time clubs, the experience is great. The facilities are always impressive, and the team is always ready and waiting and willing to assist upon my arrival.”
Monchik is relatively new to Life Time after spending time coaching the national team in Ecuador. But to him it was an easy decision to join Swain and Life Time.
“It was a no-brainer,” Monchik said. “Life Time’s vision and commitment to racquetball made it obvious that I need to be part of their team. My goal and only agenda is the growth and success of racquetball. Life Time does well, racquetball does well. Sudsy does well.”
Although the duo of Swain and Monchik may appear to be an odd pairing because of their on-court rivalry in the past, both say this is a match made in heaven — with each other and with Life Time. But the intensity won’t wane when they meet on the court.
“Sudsy and I have always been vicious rivals, but now we’re friends and on the same team … until we play each other at these events,” Swain said. “I’m looking forward to learning from him on the court myself, but when we play each other, it’ll be with the same desire as before. There’s no off switch for either of us on that one.”
Monchik said he has no doubts about the partnership. “Cliff and I have been rivals for years on the court, but we have always had so much respect for each other off the court as well,” Monchik said.
“Now we are friends and allies. All we want to do is share our knowledge, experiences, and stories with all. Any level, any game style, any age … anyone who loves racquetball, we will make them better. Guaranteed. Cliff is a dear friend. This was meant to be. Should have happened a long time ago.”
Also on staff is Jim Winterton, legendary Hall of Famer and coach of the current world No. 1 Kane Waselenchuk. Winterton has been providing camps, lessons, and junior training at Life Time clubs for the past two and a half years and is headquartered at the Life Time in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Life Time provides the perfect family atmosphere for racquetball,” Winterton said. “It’s one of the few clubs to allow juniors on the courts anymore. In fact, they don’t just allow it, they encourage it. Plus, they provide clean courts, comfortable locker rooms, and competitive leagues that make for a great instructional atmosphere. It is the definition of racquetball excellence for players of all levels.”
Editor's note: This article appeared in USA Racquetball magazine in October at the U.S. Open in Minneapolis.