What makes someone come back to tennis after putting the racket down for 17 years?
On June 14th, I sat down with Donna Dwyer at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook, Maine where Donna is the CEO, to talk with her about how tennis has impacted her life. However, I first met Donna on a tennis court, and that’s where I got to know her amazing heart, kindness, and generosity - and her passion for playing tennis.
Donna first picked up a tennis racket (her first one was wooden) as a young girl, just for something fun to do with family and friends. She realized that she really enjoyed it and went on to take lessons as a teenager and play doubles on her high school team. Despite making captain of the team her senior year, she told me that she struggled to get to the skill level that she wanted to due to a lack of confidence in her ability.
Life after college was dramatic and she stopped playing tennis to meet its serious demands. However, 17 years from the last time she hit a ball, she picked up a racket once again. This time though the circumstances were vastly different than they were as a child where innocent exploration led her to play. This time, it was to save herself from despair.
“What was occurring at that time in my life was, I had a child with a disability with needs that were pretty intense, I had just finished a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and the regimen that was attached to it, and my body was rebelling in response to all that. And also at that time I was diagnosed with depression, and medication wasn’t really helping me and it was actually exacerbating the issue. So, for some reason, I think it was a friend that said ‘come out and play tennis with me’, and I did and from that day forward I never stopped.”
Donna went on to explain to me the deep sense of isolation she had been feeling as she struggled with the concurrent life challenges she had been dealing with, and how when she finally started to play tennis again in 2004, she realized that it was a way out.
“It was the relationship aspect - that you have relationships in tennis. You have a relationship with the sport. You have a relationship with yourself. You have a relationship with people.”
She continued, “I needed tennis to be in my life, to access my life, and to do my life. Tennis is the reason why all of the accomplishments have happened in my career, because I have an outlet and it’s called tennis. Tennis is my partner in life, my life partner.”
The camaraderie and relationships with others that Donna has gained from tennis kicked the feelings of isolation out of her life for good. We also got deeper though into the relationship she had had with herself, and how tennis positively affect that. We talked about the idea that how we play tennis is very much symbolic of how we play the game of life. In other words, how we act on the court when we lose or win an important point, game, or match is reflective of how we act in life when we face the challenges off the court.
“The court is really a transparent look into a person off the court.” Donna added, “Tennis is chock full of life lessons and either you pay attention to those life lessons or you don’t.”
Donna certainly has taken that belief to heart, and has been a true student of the game. And all of that studying has made Donna the confident, gracious, loving woman that she is today.
To date since Donna let tennis back into her life in 2004, she has captained over 40 USTA teams and has organized tennis clinics year round with local instructors.
Donna concluded, “I am so grateful for all of my tennis friendships, because throughout the years they have been really fun, they’ve been really loving, and they’ve been a really important part of my life.”