Sportscaster and columnist Joaquin “Quinito” Henson arrives on the squash court with a printout of a Forbes.com article proclaiming squash as the healthiest sport.
Looking younger than 61, Henson credits his youthful looks to good genes and the loving care of his wife, Carmencita “Menchu” Genato.
“Nothing has been done on my face,” he says. “I don’t overindulge. My parents raised me well. I don’t smoke or drink. If I spend late nights, it’s because of writing and tweeting.”
“Since I’ve been playing squash for over 30 years, I think it’s the secret to staying energetic and relatively fit at my age. It’s a wonderful social sport where you make friends.”
When he was nine, Henson would watch a game on TV and crank out a story. The next day, he would clip the sports story written by a professional journalist and paste it on his scrapbook alongside his version. Through diligence and talent, he became the editor of the school newspaper.
In 1972, Henson went on a three-month program to visit top schools in the US, organized by the US State Department. The high point of his visit had nothing to do with academics, but more to do with his being well-read in sports.
In Seattle, he was given the chance to meet Leonard Wilkens, then player-coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, at the airport before the athlete flew to the last NBA season game in Phoenix.
Back home with a good story to tell, Henson wrote the interview and bravely visited the Express Sports Weekly of the Philippine Daily Express. The editor was impressed with his story and offered him a slot in its pool of writers. When the sports magazine closed down, Henson was invited to write his column in the Daily Express. A journalist of the Old School—someone with a passion for research—he would be asked to write about the NBA.
Aside from his deft writing style, Henson was talented in public speaking, debate and interpretative reading. The talent came in handy when the Washington Bullets went to Manila in 1978. Impressed with Henson’s expertise on NBA, TV producers asked him to join the broadcast panel of the game. Not every journalist could speak as well as they could write. Henson’s gift eventually made him a household name in sportscasting, especially in basketball and boxing.
While he was studying at the Asian Institute of Management, Indian and Pakistani classmates asked him to book a squash court. After his first game, he felt invigorated.
“It gave me a good workout in a short time. Squash ranks No. 1 in expending the most calories—517 for a 190-lb person,” he says.
The article Henson brought along talked about the irony of intense physical pursuits. Although intense exercises made a person more toned or trimmer, they don’t guarantee long-term health benefits or prevent one from getting a heart attack.
The article also distinguished exercising for health, which is to fend off disease, as opposed to exercising for fitness which is to make the most of heart and lung endurance, muscular strength, stamina and flexibility.
When the magazine’s writers met with experts, they were told that squash was the No. 1 healthiest sport. As a cardiorespiratory workout, it boosts the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles during extended exercise, and also increases the muscles’ ability to assimilate and utilize oxygen. The constant exchange of strokes and running build up muscles and improve their ability to sustain the exercise for longer periods. The forward thrusts, the bends, wrenching movements and turns improve the suppleness in the upper body.
Henson didn’t find much gratification in badminton and tennis.
“You need to control your strength and measure the size of the court so that ball doesn’t go out of bounds all the time,” he explains. “In tennis, you have to be a high-quality player to sustain a long rally. If you’re not a high-quality player, after two hits, the ball is out of bounds you start again. It’s a very skilled game for both.”
Since squash is played on a four-walled court, the ball just bounces back, says Henson.
“In squash, you don’t need a high-skill level. It is important for you to have good sports IQ because it’s challenging. It’s one-on-one. It’s not a doubles game. In some parts, there are doubles because of variations inside of court. We use international standards for a singles court. There are a lot of tactics involved; you’re on your own. You don’t rely on teammates. The nicest thing is that you get a tremendous workout in a short time and you can fit it into your schedule.
“For the uninitiated, squash is a great workout. You exercise the whole body more than swimming, basketball, rowing, mountain climbing. There’s concentration and it’s low-risk for injuries.”
Although he was faster and more alert in his younger days, Henson says his enthusiasm for the sports has not waned.
“If you’re smarter, you need a touch game. I like to play with power. That’s my liability.”
He explains that power players rely on muscle strength and stamina. “Smart players make their opponents run around with placement shots using drops and volleys while they control the t-spot on the court. The touch game requires versatility as opposed to the power game, which is all force.
“If I play with people my age, I have an advantage,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m little more fit than them.”
His most unforgettable game was winning third place in a national masters’ competition for over 50 years old.
“I won the playoff for third by default—my opponent didn’t show up,” he recalls. “I played in several club finals in Alabang against Gabby Lopez (chairman of ABS-CBN) decades ago and I lost every time! He was extremely fit and skillful.”
His wife, Menchu, was national pelota champion. Sports is in her DNA. Her maternal grandfather Gil Fargas was the undefeated tennis champ in the Far Eastern Games. Her grandmother Sarah Xeres-Burgos Genato was a champion bowler and indulged in sports until her 80s. Her grandfather, Dr. Jose Genato Sr., played with the national soccer team in the Far Eastern Games, and uncle Antonio Genato was a basketball Olympian. Her father Jose Sr. was a college varsity athlete, her brother Pepito was in the national soccer team and Dyan Castillejo is a cousin.
Baby boomers will recall Menchu Genato as one of the country’s prettiest faces and Top 5 Outstanding Coeds. On TV, she appeared in the comedy “Baltic and Company” and was known as “Tita Maggie” (after the seasoning brand). After retiring from San Miguel, she became a real estate broker and now helps Henson’s mother, Marina, 96, in her insurance business. She also heads a foundation that assists abused women.
As a lover of competitive sports, Menchu found it easy to pick up squash. In pelota, the ball is bouncy, she says, but the squash ball doesn’t bounce until it is warmed up.
“You have to hit it really hard, especially at start of the game, for it to come to life. When it’s dead, the bounce is low. You have to run faster.”
The Hensons favor the Head racquet and are shod in Asix because of the traction.
On playing with her husband, Menchu says, “I know he gives me a lot of chances, but sometimes I catch him. He likes to give me a lead, maybe six or seven, then he tries to catch up. Sometimes he doesn’t get a chance to catch up so I end up winning. The biggest plus is his strength. When he wants to get the points, he hits it super hard.”
Her most memorable squash game was winning the 1st Women’s Squash Championship at the Palms Country Club. In the best-of-three match, she won two sets in a closely contested game to become the club’s first female champion.
Menchu’s asset is her power, which she acquired from playing pairs in pelota and also from playing with men.
“Sometimes my game goes off when I play with a woman who plays slowly or softly. I’m used to hitting hard.”
Like most players, she savors the adrenaline rush after the game. “You feel like you’re on top of the world and you’re ready for anything else.”
Says Henson, “Squash is easy to learn, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive. All you need is a racquet and a pair of shoes, and you can get anywhere.”
Although one has to be a member of a club to use the squash facilities, the Squash Rackets Association of the Philippines plans to build two public courts to make the sport more accessible.