Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It was just...time

Andrea's good friend Juan, who doubled as her tennis coach, asked me from time to time in his easygoing Argentinian accent, "When am I going to see you back on the court?" I had told Juan that I used to play but I just didn't have time anymore. 

My son often asked me what sports I played as a kid. "I played baseball, basketball, soccer and some tennis," I always reply. Tennis was always last on my list. It's the sport I wanted to forget. Why? I couldn't even figure it out until recently.

For years, I played competitive tennis as a junior. I was never ranked in the top 50 nor did I ever win a singles tournament. I'm just saying not to compare me to Roger Federer. 

I was 18-0 in high school doubles but I was never one of the top players on a highly rated high school team. Still I loved the game and for the most part it loved me back. The constant moving back and forth caused me to release my mucus and therefore kept my lungs in decent shape. As the years went on, I won a round-robin tournament, made it to the finals of a ranked tournament (in which I knocked off the top seeded player in the semifinals) and began taking lessons several times a week. I even gave lessons to young kids over the summers. 

The problem became when I won, it was more a relief than a thrill. When I lost, I thought about it for weeks and months and criticized myself for hours everyday. I would throw my racket all over the court and scream when I lost points. When I came home, my dad would ask how I did and it would pain me to tell him when I lost. When I won, I just said "I won. Going to my room now."

After my high school days, I decided not to try out for the UGA tennis team. I used to play the team's racket stringer several times a week and won a few more times than I lost. I knew with that record I was never going to be able to compete on a top ranked NCAA team.

I stop playing tennis my freshman year and only played off and on for the next decade. I played on a club team in the early 2000's and got so frustrated after being eliminated from two straight playoff matches that I had an emotional breakdown in my car while my wife tried to console me. Tennis, while keeping me physically healthy, was emotionally killing me. 

Slowly I went from playing on club teams to being able to count on one hand how many times I played per year. Finally, four years ago, I just stop playing. My rackets went from being stored in the house to the garage to eventually the back of the storage room in the basement.

Why was it so hard for me to go back to the storage room, grab my racket and ask someone to play? Then it dawned on me, I realized what tennis was for me.

Tennis revealed my issues with depression and anxiety.  The losses were horrible and the wins were acceptable. Tennis may have loved me but in truth I hated tennis. It brought out the worst in me. It triggered my depression.

I learned to cope with all the things that brought out my anxiety and depression. Well, except for tennis. That didn't become clear to me until last fall. Andrea was told that Juan passed away. She was shocked as were all of the tennis players at our facility.

As several hundred people stood on the courts remember Juan, I stood on a tennis court once again with sadness. This time it wasn't about me about it but about a person we had lost way too early.

Juan always asked me to get back on the court. I always refused, claiming that I just didn't have enough time.

But in fact, there was no better time than now.

When we returned from the funeral, I threw my racket case in the car along with my tennis shoes. I didn't immediately go back to playing but I realized I was done refusing the game.

Today I'm taking lessons once a week and I have partners that I play with here or there. I even joined a competitive team. My game is totally different now. Back in my heyday, I was known for lobbying and just keeping the ball in. Now due to my increased workouts, I am hitting the ball a lot harder and with more overspend. I have a completely different game. But the most important thing is that I have a completely different attitude.

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