RALEIGH — Wes Snead is a prime example of someone who is more than meets the eye. Upon a typical first impression, he appears to be merely a well-dressed Raleigh real-estate agent ready to make a sale.
Outside of office hours, though, Snead is one of the best age-group racquetball players in the country.
"He's excellent in his fundamentals and every aspect of the game," said Curt Geller, Snead's weekly sparring partner for the past 10-plus years.
What started as a college course at James Madison in the late 1970s segued a burned-out tennis player into what he is today, a 55-year-old national champion racquetball player.
"I'd never even seen a racquetball court until I took the class," Snead said. "But it was one of those things that I took to right away. It was just fun to play something new, and I was sort of a pretty good player right off the bat, so to speak."
Decades later and Snead might just be reaching his prime, although he's not invincible. Geller said he beats Snead maybe 10 percent of the time they play.
"It used to be a little more than that, but he's gotten better in the last couple of years," Geller said. "He's taken it to that next level, and I haven't."
That next level helped Snead surpass the left-handed Glenn Bell, the No. 1 seed from Nederland, Texas, in May's National Singles Championship in Fullerton, Calif.
The top two seeds went back and forth for nearly 90 minutes. Snead won the first game 15-11 but found himself trailing 12-10 in the second of the best-of-3 series.
"I never felt confident," Snead said. "The guy had such a good serve that I felt like I was on the defensive trying to return the serve so much of the time."
When opportunity struck, so did Snead. He rallied to score the next five points and finally realize a goal he set more than five years ago: winning a national championship.
"Honestly, it was a little surreal once it actually happened," he said. "It was a big personal accomplishment, something I'd been working for for a long time."
Snead, who moved to Raleigh in 1986, received a lot of congratulations from his friends and racquetball buddies when he returned with his championship medal. But his celebration was short-lived.
He already is set on accomplishing his next goal: winning October's U.S. Open in Minneapolis to complete the sweep of both major tournaments in the same year.
"I don't think there's any question he can do that within his age group," Geller said. "I think he's as good as anybody in the 55s."
Snead is back on his training regimen, which consists of competing against other players, drilling and two hour-long high-intensity training classes a week.
"It's tough because it's so physically demanding," he said. "I train off the court more than I actually train on the court just trying to be in shape. Sometimes the person that's the most fit is the person that wins the matches in the tournaments."