Last week, AD LOVE founder, Scott Hardy, sat down with Denis Indondo. A man with a remarkable story to share. The game of tennis has impacted life, pulled him across international borders and assisted him through some extremely difficult times.
Simply put - we were incredibly moved that he was willing to share his narrative with the AD LOVE community.
For those of you unfamiliar, AD LOVE Stories is a recurring blog series that we will be creating throughout 2019. The goal of this segment is to celebrate all of the amazing ways that tennis is helping to spread love, through stories and videos created by the AD LOVE team.
This week’s story epitomizes that goal.
Denis Indondo was born to a large family in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A natural athlete, it didn’t take long for him to discover a love for the game of tennis. He started out at age 8, while working as a ball boy in exchange for the ability to rent a wooden racket - as he was unable to afford one of his own.
Denis took to the sport immediately and used his ingenuity to create a wooden tennis paddle (made entirely out of wood, without any strings) so that he had something to practice with when not working.
He practiced with the paddle and eventually the older players took note of his skill. His dedication made him a star athlete, and earned him the attention of Congolese government, which began to fund his education at age 10 so that he could continue to hone his tennis abilities.
He remembers his dad telling him “this is your ticket” and he took the opportunity seriously - intensely focusing on tennis and school until he graduated.
As he learned, Denis began to emulate the aggressive baseline style of Andre Agassi. Unlike Agassi though, Denis has a one-handed backhand, a thing of beauty if you ever get the chance to see him play.
Eventually, his hard work paid off. Denis became a part of the Congolese National Tennis Team and traveled internationally with the ATP Tour. Denis was a star player in the continent, taking several tournament titles - and most notably, winning the Gold Medal at the African Games in 2015.
His win earned him the attention of Congolese president. Eventually he was called back to the Democratic Republic of Congo to present the gold metal to the president himself - but the president never followed through on meeting with Denis. As the days passed, Denis realized that instead, the government had taken the prize money that he and his teammates had won - and instead of distributing entire amount to the team, they gave a lump sum of only $500 to share amongst everyone (players, coaches and trainers alike).
Denis felt that he needed to speak out and went public about the corruption that he experienced. Knowing the danger, he went on a national news channel and told his story - putting him and his family in peril. Eventually, the spotlight grew too threatening and Denis, his wife, and their two sons were forced into hiding.
Denis leaned on his international tennis community for support - and his friends in the U.S. were able to assist him in arranging to get a Visa in the states. Denis and his family landed in Denver, but eventually decided it best to put down roots in Portland, Maine after he spoke with a close friend from the Congo who had moved to the area several years back. He heard that the city offered tremendous support to immigrants, but didn’t think he would be able to play tennis in the cold state of Maine.
After arriving, Denis began to settle in and joined a local gym. By chance, he met a well-connected friend who introduced him to the thriving tennis community at Foreside Fitness & Tennis in Falmouth Maine. After playing a match with a few of the regulars, it was clear that Denis wasn’t just any player - he had world-class talent.
As a result of his connections to the tennis community, Denis was able to move out of a shelter and into a two bedroom apartment in downtown Portland. The community has also helped to connect Denis with a translator, find furniture and supply his sons with clothing and toys to play with.
He’s thrilled to say that his children are thriving within their new school and that his family is settling in nicely. He’s not yet eligible to work in the U.S. but is very much looking forward to using his tennis skills to support his family (his number one priority).
Although he’d love to compete, Denis knows the best path forward might be to coach and teach, so he is currently working on learning the English language.
Above all, Denis is beyond grateful to tennis, and the tennis community for helping to support him through this ordeal.
He views his tennis skills as a tremendous gift - enabling him and his family to escape the corruption and danger in his home country, providing him the ability to form a supportive community in the United States and a path to support himself in the future.
Through a translator he shared that the tennis people in Maine have “put a smile on my face”.
We were incredibly moved by Denis’s story and will be holding a pop-up shop at Foreside Fitness & Tennis in Falmouth ME to benefit him and his family. The event will be held on Jan 21st and 22nd. $5 from every shirt sold, will go directly to Denis and his family.
What is AD LOVE?
We’re a tennis apparel brand working to spread love using tennis as a vehicle. You can find us right here at adlovetennis.com or at pop-ups shops in AD LOVE is a tennis clubs across New England. Find out more about our story here.