by Melanie Jones | photography by Smith Hardy
You might recognize him from the Alexander Family YMCA, smacking the ball against the backboard. Or maybe you’ve chatted with him at the North Hills Club, where he strings rackets and manages the pro shop. But running into Brent Walters won’t reveal the truth: He’s a multi-title winning racquetball champ, living a low-key existence right here in Raleigh.
At 13, Walters was waiting for a lightning delay to pass at the neighborhood pool when Lee Tent, son of the club’s general manager, invited him to play racquetball. He was hooked. At the time, there was an incentive program to grow the sport: free balls and prizes in exchange for time on the court. He was in: “I am super-competitive!” He began hanging around the courts for up to 40 hours a week, picking up games from the old guys, and soon discovered he had a natural talent.
As a teen, Walters played men’s tournaments in the Fayetteville area just to compete. At East Carolina, Walters played on the intramural team (racquetball wasn’t a varsity sport) and his freshman year, he played four matches without losing a point. His grades kept him from participating in the regional collegiate tournament, so he dropped out of school sophomore year.
Walters moved to Raleigh in 2001, playing tournaments and stringing rackets to pay the bills. He eventually became an official pro tour stringer and referee, mostly in order to pay for his own tournaments. “Most people don’t realize how good this guy is. He’s better at racquetball than most of us are at anything we do,” says Allen Willis, a friend from the North Hills Club. “And he’s just so nice about it as well.”
Walters credits his success to a high-intensity fitness regimen and balanced diet—too modest, friends say, to admit that he has incredible, natural talent. Through hard work and a competitive nature, Walters has amassed quite a record: 10 state singles titles, 13 state doubles titles, 8 national doubles titles and 7 national singles titles. “I play for self-joy, I like winning more than I hate losing,” says Walters. “I am grateful that the sport has allowed me to travel and make friends along the way.”