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Isabel Ruiz – PFA Paddleball Player Profile #41

Isabel Ruiz – PFA Paddleball Player Profile #41

Isabel Ruiz PFA Paddleball Player Profile #41 by Kim Ramos, Mike Melendez & Dave Siegel

There is no question that paddleball is in a rebirth mode, thanks largely to the emergence of women to prominent status in the sport. The ladies division is loaded with talent and is growing at a rapid pace. The competition has become fierce and these gals can really put on great games, not only against themselves but against the men as well. This is one reason that the mixed-doubles division is arguably the most popular in the game today. In the last few years, many new women players have converted to Big-Blue after honing their wall sports games in handball or racquetball. One such upstart is Isabel Ruiz. Izzy is a quiet, sweet and easygoing woman off the court, but don’t mess with her! She is a tough, fierce competitor and can play a mean game. Her on-court demeanor has earned her a very colorful nickname. If you don’t know it, you’ll have to check with Isabel or her friends to find out what it is (LOL)!

Isabel was born in Lima, Peru and moved to the United States at the age of fourteen. She grew up playing volleyball and soccer and once in the US, started out in one-wall sports playing handball in Central Park, eventually switching to paddleball. She developed a love for the small-ball game and soon teamed up in the Budweiser classic with Lourdes Lozada, one of the top players back then. They went on to play together for 20 years. Like many of the female players at the time, she shifted to racquetball, playing this game for ten years and became one of the top ladies players. In 2017 she came back to the world of Big-Blue one-wall paddleball and quickly emerged as a top woman player and it’s now her favorite sport. During the indoor season, Isabel plays 2-3 times a week at Zerega Indoor and during the warmer weather, she’s at one of her home parks: Orchard Beach or Colucci Park.

Isabel’s game has improved tremendously and anyone who has seen her play recently can see that she has the confidence to compete with the top players. She is proud of her defensive skills, while focusing on placement and consistency, trying hard not to make unforced errors. She often uses the lob, which is her favorite shot, a strategy that can be especially effective in the game of Big-Blue, though not many players use it. Isabel will go all out to make every get and most significantly, she never gives up. She recalls a recent tournament when she came from behind (1-14) and ended up winning 16-14. “Never say it’s over until the last point!” Regarding her defensive style, since she now regularly plays with the highly offensive-minded Maira Rosario-Ramos, she feels there is no reason to play an attack-style game. And speaking of attack, how about this: Last year at Rockaway Beach, she had a memorable battle with a paddleball wall when, as she ran in to retrieve the ball, the concrete wall “attacked her,” slamming into her head causing a concussion and lacerated eye. And she made the get!

Isabel doesn’t model her game after anyone, believing everyone has something unique about their game that makes them different. However, she does enjoy watching Nelson Deida play, saying he competes with great heart and leaves everything on the court. This is consistent with the advice she offers her paddleball peers, which is to always play with heart until the last point, and “Never apologize for showing your emotions on the court, as long as you don’t disrespect anyone.”

Izzy thinks the sport has come a long way from where it started, thanks in part to people like Anthony Fiorino, Liz Colon, Mike Melendez (thanks!), Kim Avena and Charlene Gilio, all of whom go out of their way to promote the game. There is nothing that Isabel would change about the game but she says that in order to grow our sport, players need to support and represent the game with respect.

Isabel’s sports hero is the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (RIP). She loved her style of coaching, describing her as competitive, confident, strict and sometimes a little arrogant, but she was always there for her team no matter what the outcome of the game. Hmmm… sounds like these two ladies have a lot in common.

In addition to playing paddleball, Isabel is a pitcher in a local softball league and enjoys playing volleyball. She also loves playing cards and board games with friends and, no surprise, is as competitive there as she is playing paddleball. Her favorite foods are steak and Chinese cuisine.

Isabel would not reveal any secret talents but recently this writer (Kim) witnessed her race into action to help a fellow player who was stricken while playing at Zerega and had stopped breathing. Without hesitation, she began giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation aided by another player until paramedics arrived on the scene. Actions like this do not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Isabel – although she certainly can be a tough cookie, Isabel is a loyal friend who would do anything to help a fellow human being, friend or family in need.

Jasmine Suarez – PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Jasmine Suarez – PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Jasmine Suarez – Paddleball Player Profile No-40 by Dave Siegel

She burst on the paddleball scene just a few years ago and has certainly made a big impact. Now one of the best women players in the big blue game, Jasmine Suarez was a top racquetball player for 20 years before the paddleball bug overtook her. But her mark on the sport is felt more in her outspoken leadership in furthering the cause of the women’s game. In fact, she says the impetus for drawing her to paddleball was her desire to support female athleticism when she became aware of all the small ball events that Charlene Gilio was organizing. She has recently been in the “news” for hosting a successful small ball charity tournament at the McBurney YMCA in Manhattan and for placing second in the PFA big blue mixed-doubles tournament at Zerega Indoors in April.

Jasmine started playing wall sports during her youth in Brooklyn with handball at Bath Beach Park, eventually turning to racquetball at Lincoln Terrace Park. She really excels in racquetball and it remains her favorite. In paddleball, which she started about three years ago, Jasmine is known as a very smart strategic left-handed player with excellent anticipation and deceptive quickness. Power is not a key ingredient of her game, but defense and placement certainly are trademarks. Her signature shot is the backhand drop in front of her, which she jokes is her “butt shot” because she sticks her behind out while executing it. Jasmine plays big blue paddleball three days a week, traveling to different parks across the NYC area, but considers the McBurney “Y” her home, though Central Park is her favorite venue.

Clearly, when it comes to passion for sports, Jasmine’s number one priority is furthering the women’s movement for equality. But she is practical in her vision. While she would love to see women receive the same prizes for tournament victories as men, she understands this would not be fair if there are twice as many men’s entries as women’s, as is often the case. So her goal is to promote the participation of women to the point where they equal the men’s, so the prizes are justifiably equal. In that vein, she says the most exciting division is mixed-doubles, “where men and women all come together.” No surprise, since there must be an equal number of women and men (LOL)!

Jasmine’s passion extends beyond the women’s movement to the growth and survival of the paddleball game. She feels the number one priority is getting the youth into the fold. Bringing the game into the high schools would be great and “we need champions that are in their twenties to keep the game alive for the next generation.” She is also a proponent of a ranking system, which would allow a beginner to gain experience and move up. And she would love to see more mutual respect among tournament directors and the players by having an active forum in which all get the opportunity to voice their concerns and make suggestions. She also feels that in order for the game to reach its true potential, sponsorship is paramount. The Paddleball Family Alliance shares all these beliefs and making them a reality is what the PFA is all about.

Does Jasmine have other interests she would like to share? We got her to reveal that she loves Star Wars, the WWE, is an avid reader and, “my life is basically on social media, LOL.” She also does weight-training, has started playing squash and she loves cheesecake in “all forms and varieties.” Her all-time sports hero is Serena Williams, the GOAT! And Jasmine has a secret talent, so secret she wouldn’t tell us what it is. I guess you’ll have to ask her, but then if she tells, it won’t be a secret!

Keep up the great work Jasmine, the ladies and the game need you!