Speed of Light

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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. Used to 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.

Now it was time for Doug to turn professional. He played in a few pro events while studying business at North Carolina State, then decided to move back to Texas, where there are more tournaments and some of the best racquetball in the country is played. He bounced from Austin to Dallas. He made steady progress in the sport, which is only financially lucrative for the very best players. The nation's number one player, for example, can easily make a few hundred thousand dollars a year. The number ten player makes maybe 40 grand, if he hustles his butt off.

Doug climbed steadily up the rankings, helped by Drew Kachtik, a buddy, coach and mentor who was dominating the national rankings at the time. Doug's confidence grew along with his strength and ability. He plunged into the brotherhood that is the racquetball circuit, building relationships that would soon allow him to land at any airport in the country, call up a friend, and bunk there for a month. He enjoyed massive amounts of sex. Always a music fan, he amassed CDs by the thousands. He lived life to the fullest and for the moment.

Until the moment that Lincoln Town Car careened into the picture.

Fresh out of the operating room, Doug felt an unfamiliar emotion. He was scared. Of life without racquetball. Of life with pain. Of change.

Doug had always been happy, or been what he thought was happy. Now he was being forced to look someplace new for solutions to the toughest challenge he had ever faced. Why had this calamity befallen him? He was raised Greek Orthodox, even served as an altar boy for a while, but had never bought into the ritualistic fervor of Catholicism. After 21 years of taking all of his gifts for granted, he felt pretty sure there was a God. How he was going to reach this entity was another question.

Lying in that bed, Doug made a conscious choice. He would not quit, would not give in to the fear. He would move away from darkness and anger and toward light. There was a light, of that he was sure. The problem was how to reach it.

Like any athlete, Doug found a certain measure of salvation through physical rehabilitation. Six months of inactivity had sent his weight ballooning to 210 pounds, up from 185 on his 6-foot-1 frame. The surgeons' knives had turned his taut abdomen to dough. Lack of exercise had atrophied his explosive muscles. He began with stomach exercises and stretching sessions. Sunrise would find him swimming laps at the pool. He ran through parks, doing push-ups on the grass and pull-ups on whatever would hold him. As he regained strength, he progressed to weights.

But this type of exercise was all stuff he had done before. He decided to rebuild himself from the inside out. Losing everything gave Doug a humility that was once beyond the comprehension of a cocky, top-level athlete. He realized there had to be other forces at work to explain his talent as well as his troubles. So every night he would come home, lock the doors to his house, and look inside himself. Ever the experimenter, he sampled philosophies of Eastern thought, meditation, the teachings of spiritual types from Ram Das to Jesus to Buddha, a substance or two. He listened to a lot of music, letting the sounds take his mind above and beyond.

"Just knocking it open, moving the walls back," Doug describes these solitary sessions. "And it kept getting bigger. As you know yourself more, you become more realized as to who you are: a perfect child of God. You realize that there are two forces governing everything: love and fear. You're either moving toward love or running from fear."

Doug didn't mention it to anyone, but he set a date for his return to the court for mid-1996. As the day neared, his weightlifting became more intense. The lower back is the locus of power for a racquetball player's vicious swing, and Doug didn't want to take one good swipe and end up back in the hospital. He made a few tentative trips to the court by himself, hitting for a few minutes and then retreating. Finally, two and half years after his surgery, Doug asked his friend Kachtik to hit with him.

"It was like a veil was lifted," Doug remembers. "[The accident] was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I didn't realize the gifts I had. Everything is a gift; you have to recognize you have it. My natural athletic ability, my family and the support I had there, my friendships. My eye-hand coordination, I always thought I had it just because I do. There was never any thought to give thanks, of any gratefulness.

"My timing was off, my cardio was off, but I felt awesome. It was huge. It was my life. I was back."

Doug's renovation continued apace, inside and out. A year after his return to the court, he won the Texas state championship in the open division. A lot of players compete both in the open and pro divisions, and Doug was beating guys at the pro level. He started playing the pro tour and picked up a few sponsors, including a multi-year deal with the equipment manufacturer Head that provided a nice stipend and as much free gear as he asked for -- racquets, shoes, clothing, luggage, whatever. Free of financial pressure, he ascended the U.S. rankings, reaching as high as number 11.

His spiritual progress continued as he developed better meditation techniques. Music was particularly useful. He used the sounds as a mantra, getting lost within the rhythms, letting a lyric drag his mind in a particular direction, or just following his own train of thought. Music allowed him to create a single-mindedness and concentrate on God, which for Doug was expressed through the universe, love, nature.

Doug studied the teachings of many religions, but developed more of a world spiritual view free of ideology or dogma. Still, although he was getting to know himself better and better, there was something missing from his spirituality, some fundamental guiding principle or understanding.

That's when he found Bill Stanley.

Stanley's improbable tale begins in West Texas, where he became the greatest seller of floor-finishing products the industry had ever seen. He made so much money that he quit to teach sales seminars to other businesses across the country. Stanley's motivational techniques revolve around the concept that the key to better sales is becoming a better person, physically and mentally. This soon segued into teaching people about personal and spiritual growth, about how there is power within everyone to achieve their dreams. His contacts led him to work with the University of Tennessee football team for a year, helping Coach Johnny Majors improve the Volunteers' record from 2-9 to 10-2 the next season. He helped tennis player Bill Scanlon rise from the 90th-ranked player in the world to ninth. He dumbfounded Dallas Mavericks like Derek Harper and Detlef Schrempf with his uncanny three-point shooting. He amassed goo-gobs of money.

The problem with teaching spiritual growth in a corporate or athletic setting is that the word "God" is pretty much off-limits. And the power of God, which according to Stanley resides in your unconscious mind, is the key to any kind of success in life. So Stanley labeled God and the subconscious mind "the magic genie" in order to make it palatable to everyday folks. The better you understand your "magic genie" -- and, unavoidably, yourself -- the more it will help you.

Doug, who was living in Dallas at the time, was introduced to Stanley at the North Dallas Athletic Club, where the 60-something-year-old Stanley gives talks and performs the regimen that keeps him looking about 40. About a year after their meeting, Stanley mentioned to Doug that he had worked with pro athletes and had a tape that might prove useful. Stanley talked about playing in the subconscious mind, which sounded pretty enticing to a guy as introspective as Doug. He took the tape home and put it on his sound system.

Stanley's animated voice came on, talking about how the magic genie, a.k.a. God, a.k.a. your subconscious mind, can be programmed to help you do better at work, sports, life, or anything else. How the only barrier to unleashing this power within is belief. How understanding and listening to your self will give you the power to achieve your dreams.

Doug stopped the tape and began to cry. He had found the answer.

No dogma, no ritual, no doctrines -- just forging a direct link between yourself and God. "It painted an understanding of how I can create anything I want," Doug says. "In the two and a half years since then, I haven't had a down day. I was always a pretty happy guy, but it's on another level now. It's in the spiritual realm."

Stanley has taught thousands upon thousands of people in his seminars. Maybe 50 have applied the lessons from his lectures and tapes to real life. Two weeks after he gave Doug the tape, he ran into him at the club.

"He looked like somebody had stuck him in the butt with a fork," Stanley says. "He said, "My God, my whole life has changed.'"

One of Bill Stanley's fundamental teachings is "sit down, shut up and get quiet." Doug, already into meditation, used this technique to great effect. Back when he first started meditating, Doug's mind would jump around like a drunken monkey leaping from limb to limb -- my leg itches, I have to change the oil in my car, I met this great girl yesterday, is my racquet restrung? Now he began to develop the ability to focus his mind completely on God and love.

It made Doug feel empowered. It made him feel high. It made him an even better racquetball player.

At the top levels of racquetball, where Doug was now competing, every player knows how to perform geometry at 200 miles per hour (Pete Sampras' serve, by comparison, travels about 140) inside a 40-by-20-foot glass box. They all can hit great shots from any angle. They all are in great condition and can withstand the bumping and jostling for position, the constant contact with elbows and shoulders and floors and walls. They all know where to hit the ball in what situation. The winner is the one who can stay focused.

At the 1999 U.S. Championships, Doug lost focus in the quarterfinals, let some bad calls penetrate his cocoon of serenity. So he went to work with Stanley on mastering that magic genie, harnessing its power, making it his total and obedient servant.

The 2000 U.S. Championships were held, as always, at the Downtown YMCA in Houston. Doug won his first two matches to reach the round of 16. His next opponent was ranked number 11 in the country. They split the first two games, then Doug won a close tiebreaker to advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. His opponent was Adam Karp, a two-time U.S. champion, the eighth-ranked player in the nation -- and the man who had dispatched Doug the year before.

The winner of this match would reach the semifinals and be guaranteed a spot on the U.S. national team, which meant a few thousand dollars in grant money, full health insurance, and a trip to the world championships in Mexico. The loser got nothing. For the past year, since the loss in 1999, Doug's entire focus had been on beating Karp. He did, edging him 11-8 in the tiebreaker.

In the semifinals, against the tenth-ranked player, Dan Fowler, Doug got pounded in the first game. He rebounded to win the second. Another tiebreaker. He found himself down 10-7 with Fowler serving for the match.

"I was on such a plane," Doug remembers. "Kind of like you see with Tiger Woods. I was on such a high mental level that I detached myself from the pressure --it's not real, it's only in your head. It all ties into fear and doubt, and I never thought I would lose."

Fowler served a bullet. Doug launched into a full dive and killed the shot --smacked the ball into that half-inch of space at the bottom of the wall so it rolled off, unreturnable. Doug then served out the match and advanced to the finals.

After quarterfinal and semifinal matches lasting 2-1/2 hours each, fatigue took over and Doug lost in the finals. Not that it fazed him. He was now a starter on the U.S. national team. He had progressed in his understanding and mastery of his internal self. "I was almost disappointed when I lost," he says. "but it was only skin deep."

Doug had always traveled to see concerts all over the country, treating them as much as a mental and physical workout as recreation. He usually arrived at the show wearing heavy sweats, hooded sweaters and the like. Often security would make Doug -- who's been substance-free for years now -- practically disrobe, figuring anybody wearing sweats to a concert in the Texas summer heat had to be on something. When the performance started Doug would dance like a madman, perspiring profusely, riding the music to a place deep inside.

When the Dave Matthews band was scheduled to perform at South Park Meadows in Austin, Doug prepared for the concert like it was a tournament, readying his mind to take full advantage of the band's extended instrumental jam sessions. Once the music began, he moved further and further into his consciousness. He became unaware of the fact that he was at a show with thousands of other people. There was only the essence of himself.

At the end of the show he was drenched in sweat and tears.

"I had a one-on-one experience with God," Doug says without a trace of unease. "That was the day after which everything will never be the same. I was so within the music, thinking of God. It's not like a voice comes down like thunder. I just moved to this place."

It just so happened that Doug's old racquetball teacher Bo Champagne, who he had kept in touch with over the years, was at the show, too. "He was glowing, extremely happy, with a big grin on his face," says Champagne, who ran into Doug afterward. "You could tell he had a spiritual revelation, because he was even happier than he is normally."

Doug had come to the concert with a friend named Dave, but driving home, it was clear that for Dave it was just music. Doug called up his brother, his parents, tried to explain that he would never experience sadness again. They, too, didn't really understand.

Finally he called Bill Stanley. "Everyone seeks their own salvation," Stanley said.

Today Doug Eagle rides above the worries and stresses of everyday life on a tapestry of warmth and contentment. Physically, he feels perfect every single day. He weighs 175 pounds with 8 percent body fat. Single, Doug uses his little spare time to play basketball and travel to places like Egypt where he rang in the new millennium meditating at the top of the Great Pyramids.

Mentally, his entire life is devoted to developing a greater understanding of God, and to helping others to do the same. "I don't want to come off all "God and love and life,'" he says, "but that's just the way it is."

Days are spent at his clinic, Eagle Rehab Center, helping people overcome the kind of injuries that changed Doug's life. He often travels to Dallas to spend time with Bill Stanley and work on himself. And of course he plays racquetball, plays it as well as anyone on the planet. He finished fourth at the 2000 world championships in Mexico. He's the resident pro at the Met business and sports club downtown. He recently returned from a month-long, all-expenses-paid trip to Japan where he taught racquetball clinics to hundreds of people through an interpreter. Racquetball, in fact, is his primary vehicle for spreading his message.

"My number one goal is to know God, and in the process be a positive example and help people who are interested. To bring more awareness to God and love," Doug says. "Above all else, that's what I want to do. And racquetball is my stage. I've been in front of 600 executives from Enron or Continental Airlines, taught doctors, attorneys, writers, delivery boys, professionals to blue-collar. They see me do things they could never do. So they have to think about what I'm saying."

Gandhi said that in heaven there are no religions. Until he gets there, Doug's religion is racquetball.

Not that he has accomplished all of his goals. Physically he is as close to perfect as a man can be, let alone a man who was nearly paralyzed in a horrific car accident. But there is always work to be done inside. Recently, Doug came home one evening, closed his doors, put on some Ravi Shankar sitar music, and sat cross-legged on his floor.

After about 30 minutes his mind reached a place where there were no more earthly worries, no thoughts of errands or finances. Still he moved forward, until he was filled with loving comfort. His senses closed themselves off, until he no longer felt as if he was touching anything, not sitting anywhere, not hearing anything. A sixth, unidentifiable sense took over. Still he moved forward, deeper and deeper, until he reached a final place where he was utterly consumed with thoughts of God and love.

For three hours Doug remained in that place. When he finally emerged, "it felt better than the greatest orgasm I ever had."

"I don't know what that's going to sound like," Doug says, unafraid. "Whether you understand or believe that or not, I don't know. Believe me or not, it's still my reality. I'm no wonder boy, no saint or savior. Maybe I worked harder than other people. But boy, it's real."

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