The morning sun shines on the official United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as a man walks through its doors at around 9:00 am. His body is weary from the jet lag of the nearly 4 hour plane ride and his breathing is heavy because of the thin, mountain air. As he looks around, he sees people at the peak of physical excellence with the fire of determination illuminating their eyes, most of them tower of his 6 foot frame. He feels intimidated, but determined.
This man is Joe Maini, a senior at Saint Peter’s University majoring in Secondary History Education, and he is here to tryout for the United States National Under 23 Handball Team. After days of drills, games, scrimmages, and getting knocked around on the handball court, he has been accepted onto the team.
“It feels good,” said Maini on his success of making the team. “It’s still setting in. I’m not trying to put it as my first priority, but I always take a couple seconds of the day, think about what exactly I’ve done and the steps I have taken along the way.”
Maini has been training for the national team for about two years, doing plenty of cardio and weightlifting to bring his body to good physical condition. While Maini might not be quite as tall as his competition, his intelligence has helped him keep up.
“They would rather have a smart player, than a tall player,” said Maini.
Maini’s love of handball started in the 8th grade when he was introduced to a similar game called androball at the Saint Peter’s Preparatory School’s Higher Achievement Program (HAP). Androball and handball very similar games, but differ in some aspects, such as dribbling, net size, and shooting distance.
Handball to Maini has become an escape that he has used to get through some particularly dark times in his life.
“When you’re playing that game [handball] you don’t think about anything else,” said Maini. “You just think about the next pass you’re going to make or the next move you’re going to make. You don’t think about work or school or anything like that. It’s a release. As soon as you pick up that ball, you drop everything else.”
Handball, as Maini describes, is a like a combination of “basketball, football, and soccer.” While handball may not be a well known sport in the United States, handball is very popular in other countries like Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, and many other countries throughout South America and Europe. In fact, handball is often considered the world’s second most popular sport, behind soccer.
“You wouldn’t know it from his somewhat timid personality, but Joe is an extremely goal-oriented person,” said Victor Badaracco, a senior at Saint Peter’s University and longtime high school friend of Maini. “He saw this opportunity in front of him and there was no turning back.”
The next Olympics will take place in 2016 and is set for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Maini is not officially an olympian, but will continue to train and work hard in hopes that he will representing his country in the global athletic event.
“I am just going to keep bettering myself and better my abilities in the team,” said Maini. “Now I have something in the back of my head all the time and I have at least an affirmation that the work I have done so far has paid off, so why stop here?” (Link)