By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
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By Craig Malisow
The scalpel plunged deep into Doug's lower back, exposing the spine. There it was -- the slipped disc, a wafer of bone popped out of alignment. The surgeons spent a few hours manipulating that sucker, securing it back where it belonged. Then they turned Doug over and cut into the side of his stomach. Pulled his tight abdominal muscles to the side. Pinned back his intestines so they wouldn't spill into the way. Scooped up a mushy pile of bone, which had just been chiseled off his hip. Packed it tightly into the injured area of the spine, so it would fuse into the rest of the spinal column, grow into one piece that could withstand the stresses of standing, walking, just plain living.
Doug Eagle used to be a racquetball player, one of the best. Usedto be. That was before doctors took a 12-hour expedition into his anatomy. Now, they said, the best he could hope for was a life free of pain. The smooth flex of his spine -- the engine that provided enough torque to propel a racquetball 180 miles per hour -- was permanently disjointed when that big ol' Lincoln Town Car slammed into Doug's sleek Nissan 300ZX. Like a Slinky with one bent coil, his back would never be the same. So Doug was warned to find something else to do with his life, because what he had once lived for had disappeared beneath a pile of bent metal and broken bones.
At first, Doug chose the easy route. Rage. Against the injustice, the twist of fate that steered that old woman into the intersection that Doug, by rule of law and common sense, had every right to occupy. Inside his head -- for that was all he had left after his body was stilled -- Doug cursed the doctors who refused to acknowledge any chance of him playing racquetball again. He berated the nurses who forced him to sit up a few hours after surgery, subjecting him to more pain than any man should be forced to endure. He fantasized about crippling the old woman -- she had walked away practically unscathed -- and, for good measure, her whole family. He plotted revenge against the entire sadistic hospital staff. He seethed with righteous indignation and fury and pity.
And then, confusion.
What happens when, at age 21, your physical self is wrecked? When fear and pain all but renders the slightest exertion -- urinating, laughing, sex -- out of the question? When all that's left is the mind?
What happened to Doug sounds kooky. Sounds like another "athlete overcomes the odds" cliché -- especially since Doug, now 28, has indeed managed to defy his doctors, become one of the best racquetball players in the world, open a successful physical rehabilitation center in Houston, and find inner peace and satisfaction. But his story is no infomercial. There's nothing for sale, no levels of knowledge to buy or gurus to subsidize. Well, there actually is a guru, but he has plenty of his own money and thus no need for yours. No, with Doug Eagle, there are only questions and answers.
And the answers are all inside.
Growing up in Corpus Christi, Doug Eagle always had an open mind. A bit too open, perhaps, to some of the more enjoyable aspects of life. Doug was a talented athlete, a tightly-wound bundle of energy and natural ability. After his father built the Corpus Christi Athletic Club, Doug fell in love with the speed and excitement of racquetball. He also fell in love with the party life that was a big part of the tournament scene, and more than held his own.
Doug was 12 years old when he got serious about racquetball. He was in Chicago for the junior national tournament, played poorly, and lost in the early rounds. He saw other kids winning and lusted after that. There was a guy at the tournament, Bo Champagne, a hippie type who was like a wandering racquetball legend. Everybody knew Bo. After the loss, riding with about ten other kids in the back of a pickup truck, Bo asked little Doug if he was serious about being a winner, and if he knew what kind of sacrifices it took to be serious. Even that young, "Doug was a real go-getter," says Champagne. "He would try anything. He was always the life of the party. I could see him heading in the wrong directions."
So Champagne got Doug on the right path. "I want it more than anything," the boy told him."
Bo told him he would have to work harder if he wanted to improve. Doug started to practice more. He implemented some of Bo's training tips, like doing push-ups to failure. He started doing yoga to improve his flexibility and breath control. He drank less and trained more. It all worked. By age 15 he was competing at the open level, one slight step below professional. By age 16, after his family had moved to North Carolina, he was the best player in that state at any level, winning $500, $600, $700 each weekend in pro tournaments while taking advantage of rules that allowed him to maintain his amateur status. At age 18 he went to the junior world championships in Miami and won both the singles and doubles tournaments.