The mist in her eyes said everything as we sat down to talk.
Eleanor Callado may not have walked away with the trophy at the NAPT Summer 10 Ball Classic in August, but maybe something more valuable. It was visible, palpable.
“Firstly, congratulations! Pretty exciting to be in the finals with Karen Corr!” I enthused, feeling her glow encapsulate me.
“Totally.” She confirmed. “When I walk into any event, (I) kind of play things out. I think it’s almost fun to guess who’s going to end up where, and see how it pans out.”
She was still a bit dreamy eyed. It was starting to settle in her what just happened. “And I knew Karen would end up here. Knowing it would be me?... No idea.”
We both laugh heartily, her candid answer striking me.
“I mean in a field with April Larson, Emily Duddy, Brittany Bryant…” I offer.
“…Jia Li, Briana Miller…” She continued, understanding the strength of the field. “I hit a lull in my career, you know? I got back into school. I start this Wednesday actually, but pool… I was having this tug of war with it...to decide if I wanted to push myself to learn new things or accept where I am and this is the player I’m going to be… but I got excited about it again this weekend. Playing 10 ball – something I don’t do often. Self-discovery, people pushing you in ways I haven’t been pushed in a long time. A lot of new feelings. “
“I’m glad you got to experience that.” I said, understanding why 10 ball would shake things up. “One of the big things in ten ball that’s different that people don’t realize is the break. It’s so much different because of the shape of the rack. We were talking about that a little bit earlier, and you have such an interesting break in my eyes… no part of your body really moves. It’s mostly in your stroke. Who did you say you were studying?”
“With the 10 ball break, Dennis Orcullo – only where he was hitting the rack and like how his elbow was bent up front. I wouldn’t say Bustamante because he moves every inch of his body. With speed control, I didn’t want to lift my leg, because I was studying where the second ball was moving. If you hit it right, they’ll go in the sides.” It was clear there had been an immense amount of study on this matter. “ I tried that swing type,” she continued, ”where the wing ball swings around like 3 or 4 rails to go in the corner, I couldn’t get it. So I toned it down, accepted a slower break, and tried to do the side pockets. Each table’s different. So just moving it around and seeing how the rack’s reacting. Except you take the chance of not pocketing anything and leaving a wide open table for someone like Karen.”
“Which is tough.” I said, mentally crowning myself Captain Obvious.
“It’s just mainly control. Which is why I’m so still.”
“It seemed to be working for you. I know that the last match in the finals, there was a lot of dry breaking (on both sides). But earlier in the tournament I’d been watching and it seemed to be working for you.”
Watching through the tournament had additional perks; I had heard a fun little detail about Ms. Callado. Besides being a San Francisco area native, Eleanor also confirmed she had a twin sister within the same sport of pool.
“Yes, Emilyn. We are very close, very different people. I think when we grew up, all we want to do is differentiate. People assume we’re the same and …. Find your identity. We are very, very different, but close.”
When asked to describe herself, she revealed her love of all things people.
“I love to engage in deep conversation with people. I really love to connect with anybody. Strangers, friends, I’m a very open person. I really believe that we connect with people when we need to. It could be random, but I love to connect with people in very deep ways. So, it sounds kind of intense, but we’re human beings and I guarantee everyone in this pool room is going through something. Whether it’s direct or a loved one or a friend. Finding commanality, something that can have you pull away from life and enjoy. I just love to talk to people, hear their story.” You could tell she was wrapped in this topic, and it was very close to her heart. “I dabble in art, I dabble in music, I love to play tennis, I do a little photography – nothing crazy… sports oriented. But I just love listening to people. …That’s a very philosophical answer.” She noted, chuckling.
“Well, I think pool is a very philosophical game.” Returning her chuckle. “I’ve often said it’s the art of ‘being’ in front of people.”
Nodding in agreement, she said, “It’s actually a very solitary game, it really is. Like, your Jedi mind tricks have to be strong.”
I completely agreed. “In that sense, what was it like emotionally to play Karen?”
“You know, I played her this morning for the hot seat match.” She prefaced. “…I couldn’t get anything together (in that match). My composure wasn’t there. I missed all kinds of things… (but) I was really calm in the finals. I was grateful and thankful, so I approached everything with ‘I’m not going to learn something new, what I have right now is what I have.’ Believe in what you have. Trust your decisions, trust your stroke. And….” She released a breath, “You have no control after that.” Saying of her emotions in the finals: “… I was really grateful to just be where I was. I enjoyed the moment, tried to be very present.”
We talked for a while about her new schooling adventure, how it affected her pool career, how there’s also working full time, a struggle that afflicts many of us in this industry. Saying of the struggle to aim herself at times: “What am I going to do, career moves or pool moves?” Of course, the moment she decides to focus on school and career, pool decides to tempt her with this second-place finish. The star crossed lovers of history have nothing on today’s pool players.
One of the big ways Eleanor is able to balance her schedule so well is by sponsorship. She talked at length about the kindness, quality, and generosity of hers: Rick Howard Custom Cues out of Florida and Castillo leather goods out of Illinois. “I’ve never played with or had such nice things because of these guys.” It is rare to find a sponsor so supportive of a player, she wanted to thank them thoroughly.
Again, these struggles are not uncommon in pool, and I always am curious why someone chooses this sport. Why not one of the sports that attracts money, why not focus on your career? Why pool?
“My dad raised me to be ok or maybe mediocre at everything. So I’m an ok bowler, I ‘m an ok tennis player, badminton, etc. But pool, I grew up kind of solitary, I was kind of quiet. I observed a lot. I’m not super smart, but I got by and (pool) was something that pumped me. It was something that gave me confidence and something I did for myself.” She continued, “This contributed a lot to me transforming and blossoming… I’ve never connected to anything that way.”
“It teaches you about yourself,” I chimed in, sharing all sentiment in her statement.
“I mean, 19 years later, it still challenges me in ways that I’ve never been pushed before… So maybe I enjoy being a pool hall junkie.”
As we wrapped up, the dreamy look in her eye had somewhat settled, it had become part of her reality. There might need to be a retest to cement it deep in her heart, as pool players are prone to doubt. Whatever the future holds, I enjoyed watching her in this moment. Congrats, Eleanor.