Toronto Star, August 13, 2016: PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. — It may have been the panic in her voice as the woman on the trapeze announced: “I want down.” Maybe it was the man who got a few steps up the narrow ladder toward the net before thinking better of it and high-tailing it back to solid ground.
For whatever reason — fear of heights, forgetting to take gymnastics when I was 10, plain old cowardice — I did not swing on the trapeze at Club Med Sandpiper Bay. But I did cheer on the reluctant and applaud the fearless that dove and swung and let go of the bar to effortlessly cannonball into the net below — one shouting “Wheeeeeeee” as she went.
And, well, I did give the tennis a go. Our coach, a former pro player, Rafael Muzlera, updated my technique from the “shake hands with your racquet” grip I learned as a kid to the “semi-western,” the grip the pros have been using for years.
Muzlera is one of the many former professional players who coach at Sandpiper’s sports academies. As well as training programs for about 100 young elite athletes over the year, the coaches give lessons to “actives,” the guests who come for some sun, maybe a few margaritas by the pool and definitely some high-level instruction.
On the tennis court, we warm up with the same foot and running drills as the pros. When we start hitting the ball, Muzlera records us on his iPad and shows us frame by frame what we’re doing right, or in my case, wrong. When I finally master the grip he tells me: “You are playing modern tennis!” Better late than never, I guess.
I wasn’t quite as successful getting up to speed at beach volleyball. The good news: I am not afraid of the ball like I was in Grade 7. The bad news: all that sand is hell on a pedicure. But it was fun and we had lovely coaches, ridiculously beautiful newlyweds. Piotr Marciniak — who is 6”6 and Karolina Sowala who is “only” 5”11 — also showed us how to dig our feet under the hot sand to keep them cool on the court.
As well as pros coaching tennis, beach volleyball or golf, Sandpiper offers yoga, sailing, paddle boarding and swimming clinics. You can take a fitness class that will reacquaint you with your abs faster than you can say, “Sure, I’ll have the key lime pie.” And you can sign up for nutrition classes to learn what carbs to eat, when, to maximize your athletic performance.
As for maximizing portion control at the three delicious buffets a day, we’re told to get serious about the nutrition program when we get home. So go ahead, have seconds. Start with a plate of Asian fusion and follow it up with the U.S. special — a slice of pepperoni pizza, a hotdog and some fries. Tell yourself you’ll burn it off like the lanky 17-year-old volleyball stars heaping pasta onto their plates next to you at the lunch buffet.
Mastering athletics takes more than drills, skills and nutrition. “It’s a mind game,” Sandpiper’s mental coach, Tim Kremer, tells us. He helps top golfers and other athletes get into “solid emotional space” before starting to play.
While I’m not sure telling myself “I am excited about improving” could help me unclench enough to get up the skinny ladder to try the trapeze, I heartily subscribe to Kremer’s advice at the buffet: “Get into the now. There’s no past, no future.”
And at Sandpiper — with the hot sun, plenty of ways to work up a sweat and refreshing pools and a lagoon to cool off with — it’s pretty easy to follow another solid piece of advice from Kremer: “Have fun.”
When You Go
Get there: Port St. Lucie is a two-hour drive north of Miami and two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Orlando. If you’re flying into West Palm Beach, it’s a 45-minute drive.
Stay there: Club Med Sandpiper Bay (clubmed.ca) is Florida’s only all-inclusive resort. It has the swimming pools, little kid waterpark and childcare to look after youngsters ranging from newborns to teenagers. They can play plenty of games while you improve yours. There are also loads of family-style rooms. Some group coaching activities are included in the all-inclusive price. One-on-one coaching with pros is $125 (U.S.) an hour or you can get a three-day package for $500. Kids can get a day package for $250.
Golf: Tim Kremer: myspiritofgolf.com