And that's just the warm-up.

“The whole time you're running and gasping and trying to think while you're exhausted, and that's why it's such a great sport,” Johnstone said. “To be a chess player while you're exhausted, that's the real challenge: having good choices and shot selection when you've got nothing in the tank.”

There are other challenges within the structure of the sport, Johnstone says. There's not much money in squash competitions — the winning payouts at some small tournaments barely cover travel costs — and he said he's paid more money than he's made in each of his 13 professional seasons.

He also struggles to find other players in Baltimore who can match his intensity and skill on the court. He hasn't considered moving to a more squash-friendly region because after eight years, the city is home.

“I married a Baltimore girl,” he said with a smile, “so I'm here.”

Johnstone stays sharp by practicing without headphones, which he says other athletes use to distract themselves from pain. He also coaches full time, which provides an equal — albeit different — amount of excitement on the court.

“Wade is one of those elite players that we have playing on the Pro Squash Tour,” McManus said. “For people in Baltimore, they have a jewel of a resource there, to learn the game from one of the world's best.”

Johnstone plans to play and coach for the rest of his life. His 60-year-old mother still plays regularly; and his grandfather, who is nearly 87, hits the ball by himself for a half-hour each day.

“Who knows if I'll get that crazy,” Johnstone said, laughing. “At the moment I'm still enjoying just being able to go out and compete, having fun. The reason I still play is because I love it. Always have. … Squash is for life.”

tschad@baltsun.com

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