LUMBERTON — In July, Elena Dent was preparing to be an alternate for the national racquetball team.
On Monday, the 14-year-old Lumberton resident found out that she was no longer a stand-in, but an official member of that team.
“I was really excited,” said Dent, who learned the news from her father, Eric. “Now I get to go to the Dominican Republic in November.”
The youngest of five siblings, Dent qualified as first alternate for the team following a strong showing in June at the 2015 USA Racquetball National Junior Olympic Championships in Stockton, California.
The performance gave her the opportunity to travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs earlier this month for four days of practice with the national team.
“It was a lot of fun, but very difficult,” Dent said. “We ran every morning and played racquetball all afternoon. I’ll definitely work harder now. I think they gave me tips on how to improve, so I’ll use those to help me.”
Dent also noticed the difference between practicing in North Carolina and Colorado.
“The elevation was intense and there was no humidity,” she said.
But the experience offered Dent more than the opportunity to hone her racquetball skills or experience a different region.
“We also got the chance to hear from motivational speakers,” she added. “It was really cool.”
Former MLB player Jeff Conine was among the speakers. A two-time All Star, Conine won two World Series Championships as a member of the Florida Marlins.
“He just talked about being a champion and what that means,” Dent said. “It was cool to hear from him.”
On another night, the team heard from one of Conine’s friends, a cancer survivor who makes a point to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro every year.
“They definitely motivated me to play with more endurance,” she said.
As she prepares for the Racquetball Olympics in November, Dent said she’ll be working on her game in a variety of ways before making the trip to the Dominican Republic.
“I’m going to play in some tournaments in North Carolina and do drills on the court,” she said. “I’m also doing classes at the (Southeastern Lifestyle) fitness center (in Lumberton).”
As for her goals heading into the tournament, Dent is looking to bring home some hardware.
“I hope we can win,” she said. “But I’m just going to try my best. I know my opponents will be experienced, so that will help me. I’ll also get to know people on the team better and make a few friends from other countries.”
But the chance to represent her country is what Dent looks forward to most of all.
“I think it’s really cool that I get to play for the United States,” she said. “I think that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.