I used to be a tennis snob (yes me, co-founder Brent Hardy in the middle back row). Not the kind that might first come to mind…you know the type, always dressed just so and arranging games exclusively with the social elite. No, I would throw on whatever was in my drawer and play with whoever was good enough. I was tennis snob in the sense that I would generally only make time to play with people who could give me a workout on the court. After all, I had put a lot of time and energy into crafting my skills. I played Division 1 college tennis for crying out loud and I wanted to make sure that my time on the court was well spent!
Well, after a little more than a year away from playing the game of tennis, I recently reached back into my tennis bag and decided to see how my body would react after a few swings. I had been sidelined with numerous joint issues, which in the end turned out to be psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition that attacks the tissues lining your joints. It had progressed undiagnosed for years when an orthopedist finally recommended that I see a rheumatologist. Sure enough, after some testing I was given the grim findings.
As a lifelong tennis addict, the news didn’t fall on me lightly. Here a doctor was telling me I had a condition that could not only end my tennis playing days (yikes) in the near future, but also destroy my joints if I didn’t take some pharmacological action relatively soon. What to do? Well, after mulling over my options, which included taking a medication that would effectively weaken my immune system to the point where it would not be able to attack my joints any more, I decided I’d try a diet-based solution first and see what happened. Two months and a lot of fruits and vegetables later I started to feel relief, and it was just enough to get me thinking about getting back on the court. I had taken a leave of absence from my wonderful tennis club (Morristown Field Club) and made up my mind that I was in fact healing and it was high time to make a return to the sport I love so deeply.
So, after reinstating my membership I opened up my contact list and scrolled through my “go-to” hitting partners. The only trouble was that I had no idea how long I could last on the court and I knew that because of my shoulder condition, serving with any real pace was out of the question. These guys are like me (I thought), they want a workout and they want competition. Then it dawned on me that the club regularly put on “socials” where you just show up and you get paired up with people of all levels. They are a casual affair and even though I had never once attended in my five years at the club, I thought maybe, just maybe this would be a good way to test the waters of my physical well being.
I showed up for a Wednesday night social and to my great surprise there were a couple of my hitting partners in attendance. How could this be? Did they know something I didn’t? I would soon find out. Initially I was sent out to hit with a new member, Denzely, who I found quite interesting. I learned that he was a Canadian who had spent many years in England for work. He was accustomed to grass courts, so the har-tru that we were playing on was very new to him. We still had a nice hit-around and after 20 minutes came off the courts to see if there were more people who wanted to play. I was then placed in a game with three other members who I had never played with and what I discovered over the next hour was nothing short of miraculous. Here I was, playing with 2.5 – 3.0 players and having a glorious time of it! There was laughter, creative shot making, and genuine fun all around. I wasn’t nit-picking my forehand to death, or wondering why my footwork seemed off. I was just playing some fun tennis and loving every moment of it. After a set we returned to the patio to be paired up with a new group and the evening tennis and fun went on from there. At dusk, a bunch of us ended up gathering around and having some refreshments while talking about whatever came to mind. It was peaceful, engaging and just what the doctor ordered. Here in my late 40’s I had just undergone a momentous perspective change. I realized that I no longer wanted to feel like tennis was a second job, where you’re always measuring yourself and never satisfied with the results. It has so much more to offer than that. Helping others learn the game, feeling connected to your community and being at ease on the court – all of these are wonderful components that tennis can offer. It’s why people play it their whole lives.
As I strive to get back to pain-free competitive tennis, I’m now so much less stressed by the idea of putting my big serve on mothballs. The game and all of its offerings will always be waiting for me. And whether or not I can crush serves and forehands isn’t going to make it any less fun.