Allan Garner, known by handball fans as the “blond bombshell,” announced his retirement from tournament handball today.
Garner cited a number of reasons that led to retirement, namely long job hours, a growing family and nagging injuries. “My body doesn’t respond the way it used to,” says Garner.
Allan Garner started playing handball at an early age, but didn’t take the game seriously until he was 13. He quickly won a state level “C” tournament, then a regional “B” level event 6 months later. Within one year of taking the game seriously, Garner was playing at an Open level. After a couple of years forging his game against tough competition in Texas, Garner was ready to play at the Pro level. His first pro tournament match was against his childhood idol, David
Chapman. Although not victorious, Garner was just 17 and acquainted himself well against the 9-time national champion. But Garner really flashed his potential a couple of years later when he reached the 2005 National Pro semifinal. He fell just short of advancing to the final, losing a heartbreaking 11-10 tiebreaker to Danny Bell. While the loss was difficult, Garner realized he had the talent to compete with the best in the world, something he didn’t fully appreciate at the time.
His numerous accomplishments include a World Pro Finals appearance in 2009, of which he lost a close tiebreaker to Paul Brady. Garner’s road to the final was one of the toughest in handball history, which included wins over Eoin Kennedy in the Round of 16, David Chapman in the quarterfinals and Luis Moreno in the Semifinals. Garner did not lose a game in the tournament until squaring off against Brady in what turned out to be one of the all-time epic world
finals. After losing the first game, Garner was down 10-16 in the second game, before reeling off 11 straight points to force a winner-take-all tiebreaker. Garner fought valiantly, but Brady persevered, thanks to timely clutch serves and a couple of late Garner errors. The match was not without controversy, as Brady took a 15 minute timeout in the tiebreaker for a pre-existing injury, which is not allowed under the rules of handball.
The next year, Garner won the 2010 US Open in a razor-close final over David Chapman. This win was undoubtedly Garner’s greatest victory. Curiously enough, Garner did not play tournament handball for nearly five months before playing in this event. Garner then went through two lackluster seasons of on-off playing and training, with mediocre results. 2011 and 2012 could largely be written off by Garner, but he rebounded in 2013 with a win at the pro tourney in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Garner defeated Andy Nett, Luis Moreno and Armando Ortiz to get the win at Jake Plummer’s home tournament. Garner seemed to get stronger as the tournament progressed, which seemed to bode well for the remainder of the pro handball season. However, Garner lost an 11-10 tiebreaker to Moreno in the 2013 US Open semifinals shortly after, then faded to a quarterfinal loss against Diarmuid Nash in the 2013 Houston pro tournament. Increasing family and work obligations led Garner to take a long layoff from pro handball – nearly three years. He returned to the tour at the 2016 Houston pro, but lost in the early rounds to Armando Ortiz. While Garner did better in the next tournament in NY, taking a game off Killian Carroll and winning the 9th place bracket, he knew the road back to top form would take an incredible amount of time and energy – something the father of two simply didn’t have. Garner continued to play locally in San Antonio, but after a couple lackluster appearances at pro events, Garner has decided to hang up the court shoes. “I have a 5 year old daughter and son who is about to turn 2. With school and after-school activities taking up so much time, I’m not going to be able to play nearly enough handball to return to pro form. I’ve also got a left shoulder injury that is different than anything I’ve felt before. I’m going to go to physical therapy to alleviate the pain – not for handball, but for quality of life. I want to be able to play with my kids. I like golf and am going to try to play that more instead of handball.”
Garner’s ambidexterity and natural talent made for a dangerous player that could kill the ball from anywhere on the court. Despite his achievements, Garner never dedicated himself to consistent training and played in far less tournaments than other pros. When he did focus on handball, Garner excelled. He was known for frequently joking around with fellow pros off the court, and showcasing gentlemanly behavior on the court. Garner often gave other pros the benefit of the doubt in situations where a call was close, even to his own detriment. He will also be known as one of the most dangerous two-handed players to ever play the
game. Garner possessed power from either side, even when jammed or in an awkward position. He had a masterful ceiling game, precise passing shots, great touch in the front court and one of the best backwall kills of all time. Although he served with the right hand, his left hand was said by many to be more dangerous than the right. Playing Garner was extremely confusing, as he had no real weaknesses and made unthinkable kills with astonishing regularity. While some said Garner’s power serve was not on par with other top pros, he occasionally dominated with it. The main knock on Garner was not knowing which player would show up – a powerful killshot artist who could beat anyone – or a guy looking for something or someone to motivate him.
Garner’s pro career will be remembered fondly. He would like to thank his family for supporting him and looks forward to seeing friends at a local Texas tournament every now and then. Says Garner, “I’ll always love what handball has done for me. It’s been an important part of my life.”