These Walls Can’t Hold Him

Photos by Brandon HENSLEY
Photos by Brandon HENSLEY

Mountain Avenue Elementary student Advait Kartik is finding success as a champion racquetball player, and his future looks bright … in many areas.
By Brandon HENSLEY

There used to be days when Kartik Sundram would drive his son to a basketball game or swim lesson, and by the time they arrived, little Advait would be in the backseat looking like he was half asleep.

“Do you want to go in?” Sundram would ask, and Advait would be indifferent. Yeah, sure, he’d say.

But after 8-year-old Advait Kartik was introduced to racquetball in 2012, things changed. Sleepy days were over; now he couldn’t wait to get to a court to play.

“He would gear up. He would pack his stuff,” said Sundram, who started playing the sport several years ago as a means to keep in shape. “There was a huge difference. You could see that.”

Advait himself explained his love of racquetball in a video he made last year for a school project at Mountain Avenue Elementary. In the video, he interviewed his coach Debra Tisinger-Moore about his strengths and weaknesses. He also began and ended the video with a voice over:

“My dad inspired me. I was trying to find a sport that was fun. I tried tennis, basketball, soccer and cricket. Those were not that fun for me. Then, one day, I saw my dad play outdoor racquetball. I thought that here was a fun game … I want to be a racquetball champion, and I believe that I will become one.”
Time will tell if that will happen when he enters adulthood, but he’s got quite the resume already. He won the Under-8 category in the national championships in May held in Fullerton. Then this summer he went to Colorado to compete in the Junior Olympics, and is now ranked fourth in the nation.

Moore, a U.S. racquetball hall of famer, teaches Advait at Oakridge Athletic Club in Simi Valley, where she is the racquetball director. She said Advait possessed a good swing from the outset, and that he was able to use just one hand when hitting the ball – something many juniors have trouble with.

“When his dad brought him in and he took a few shots, I thought right away, ‘Oh this kid’s pretty good,’” she said.

Maybe it’s in his genes. Advait’s mother, Archana Sudamalla, has two brothers in India – Arun and Anil. Arun plays for the national cricket team and Anil as well for volleyball. Advait has found through trial and error that he’s more of a solo sport player.

“We cannot guide him to this one. He has to love it,” Sudamalla said.

He does love it, which is why his parents were so intent on finding him the right coach. They didn’t want an amateur teaching him. They wanted Advait to build a solid base of fundamentals from the right person, like Moore.

“Because coming from a sports family, if the fundamentals are right, then you’re going in the right direction,” Sudamalla said.
Winning comes regularly now, but Advait had to go through some learning adjustments. He has been hit all over his body by the ball.

“Painful,” he said, when describing the feeling. Aside from adapting to the pain, he also had to learn how to keep his emotions in check, like when he lost a match.

“I don’t cry that much anymore,” he said. “I used to.”

On and off the court, Advait is bright, and has many interests. He dabbles in photography and art and, at least in this stage of his life, he said he wants to do something science-related when he grows up, which means he’ll have a solid support system. Sudamalla is an engineer and Sundram is a former microbiologist.

Not only that, but he will receive a black belt in tae-kwon-do later this month. In fact, it’s that discipline that Sundram says keeps Advait going in racquetball. Every match, every tournament, is like a winning a new belt. It’s a mindset of compartmentalizing his goals, which can make tasks less daunting and more fun.

Moore said his intelligence helps him understand racquetball better than others near his age. She doesn’t have to speak to him in layman’s terms when giving a lesson.

“Six-and-a-half year olds sometimes don’t understand racquetball in terms of mathematics. Racquetball is all about angles, so he’s really good about understanding that,” Moore said.

His parents acknowledged that, as the years pass, Advait may not be as interested in racquetball as much, that his dream of becoming the best player as an adult may fade. But he’s this committed already, with so much going on in his young life. Sudamalla, who jogs daily, said the best she and her husband can do is set a good example.

“If I don’t run every day, then I cannot tell Advait to go practice,” she said.

While Advait’s passion for the sport currently burns bright, Sundram isn’t too worried about what his son will feel in the future.

“I don’t think we have any aspirations other than living with [Advait] in this moment and enjoying it … if he doesn’t like racquetball, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ll find something else.”