How handball helped pull the Red Bull Slaps champion away from the streets and a life of negativity.
The Bronx in New York City has no place for fear. Metal giants lurk on the horizon, and only the strong survive the struggle of the streets. But this is home for handball champion Tim "Timbo" Gonzalez, and that’s exactly how he likes it.
From an early age, Timbo’s parents brought him along to handball tournaments across the city. The respect that the game drew -- and the crowds -- opened the youngster's eyes to a world he couldn’t ignore. Movement. Strategy. Discipline. Attack. From Saint James Court to Zerega, the handball culture of the urban jungle began to grow its king.
“My mother raised me never to fear anything, to have heart, and to never fall to my nerves,” Timbo said. “My game speaks for itself. I don’t go out of my way to intimidate anyone, but I think my play is intimidating to most. I’m always on the offense. I’m aggressive and I’m always coming 1,000 percent.”
And that’s the way it’s been, from an 8-year-old kid with raw talent to the 2013 Red Bull Slaps Champion, Timbo’s taken his sport to the top and he’s not about to slow down. His neighborhood passion has fueled a lifestyle and he’s well on his way to serving it to the largest venue yet.
What’s the basic format for a game of handball?
It’s a lot like tennis. There is a singles version, as well as doubles with a partner. We play with the blue racquetballs and we play to 21 points.
What came more natural for you?
Singles was a hard adjustment, but I wanted to be the first guy who was good at both. I just wrote the doubles strategy into my singles play and now I’m at the top.
I grew up in some rough neighborhoods -- almost got caught up in gangs and going down the wrong path. I went to the worst school in the Bronx and was even stabbed while attending.
What did it take to gain the upper hand?
The old school guys were a "serve and kill" generation. They didn’t play with much strategy or develop their weaknesses. I bring a well-rounded game -- keeping my weaknesses to an absolute minimum. I've developed both of my hands to where most can’t tell if I’m naturally a lefty or righty. I play with strategy -- and when called for -- I can play a straight serve and kill game. I’ve adapted to just about every style, so opponents are thrown off and forced to play to my game.
Hard work pays off, huh?
I train harder than anyone in handball. Three hundred push ups and dips, then I jog about five miles to Victory Fields in Queens. I do another three miles around the track, a calisthenics workout, then jog the five miles back home. Six days a week. Three hours at a time. Most people play a few games and call it a day.
What do you listen to during all of that?
Nas, Big Pun, Eazy- E, Drake, Wiz Khalifa & The Game
I started training -- playing against racquetball players with my bare hands to develop my focus and timing -- the diving, the scraping, the pressure... it pushes you.
What’s kept you on your grind?
I grew up in some rough neighborhoods -- almost got caught up in gangs and going down the wrong path. I went to the worst school in the Bronx and was even stabbed while attending. Handball kept me away from the streets and saved me from a life of negativity.
My son, Jayden Ray, is the ultimate motivation. He’s only 2-and-a-half but he’s active -- always jumping around. At just a year old, he was already hitting the ball and waking me up to play. His hand-eye coordination is crazy. When I was 19, my girlfriend, Jasmine was pregnant, and I had the opportunity to play Red Bull Slaps. There was a big prize and I knew the money could really help. I was known for my doubles play and hadn’t made it as a big singles player, yet. I started training -- playing against racquetball players with my bare hands to develop my focus and timing -- the diving, the scraping, the pressure... it pushes you.
Ever think the game would take you this far?
Growing up, I never thought the sport would get this big or have huge sponsors. Between the events, coverage and the tournaments, Red Bull really helps you any way it can. I’ve played in Vegas, Arizona and Puerto Rico, and I’m about to represent the United States with Tywan Cook at the World Games in Columbia.
World Games, huh? Sounds huge.
You know, I’m proud to be a product of BX. I just want people to remember me as the kid from the Bronx who brought handball to the Olympic stage.
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