Tennis Excitement, Disappointment and a Better Story 9

Tennis Excitement, Disappointment and a Better Story

On July 27, I got the call. Bob, you have been one of four players selected to represent the USA to compete for the Senior Davis Cup. Very excited to be chosen as it has been 6 years since I last played for the team. Although I made the team last year, I chose not to participate. The finals would have been contested on Yom Kippur. As was the case in 2004, when I defaulted the finals of the World Championships due to the same conflict, I would not have played on the final day for the team, so I did not go. So it was so much sweeter to make it again. I worked hard on my body and game to have the kind of results for the last year that led to my selection.
This would be the final piece in my comeback since hip surgery in 2009.

My tennis excitement was also high as I would be defending my National Grass singles and doubles titles beginning Labor Day. The Grass has always been my favorite event and I feel that the very best Bob always shows up for this event.

And so, the training began.

On the morning of July 28, I walked on the court to hit some balls with a buddy and I had already changed. I didn’t say a word for 20 minutes. Just hitting. Caring about each shot. My focus was already narrowing for September Grass courts and October matches in Turkey. Throughout the day I noticed that I was making little choices, better choices. Stretching more mindfully. Sitting in silence without any rushing to finish. No french fries with my burger. And extra set of reps on my sit-ups. Confirming and getting no cancellation commitments for practice for the next few weeks.

Ramping up with higher consciousness of all my thoughts, beliefs and actions. This is what I do to get ready to bring the best version of myself to competition. And I love the work. It makes me a better player and, more importantly, it makes me a better person for everything I have to do going forward.

Sure, I had the concerns about missing work with my clients for several weeks this fall. And I was not happy that I would be missing participating in Tennis Congress despite being on the board and loving the opportunity to provide an extraordinary learning experience for over 200 recreational players.

But I can let go of those negatives for the chance, once again to compete at the highest level.

Meanwhile, the US Open was rapidly approaching and in the distance, the thoughts of defending champion Nadal. Injured. Rehabbing. Trying to get ready to defend. Out of the game since Wimbledon. I wondered how long he could wait. How many days or weeks he would need to get ready to play at his highest level. I felt badly for him. Each day that he would get up he would be wondering, “is today the day that I can get out there and start to play?” Must be so tough to be in that spot. You want to start training because playing is the greatest joy for a player.

I am glad that I am not faced with that kind of challenge.

And then, about two weeks ago, I was scheduled to play doubles in a team match in our club league. I showed up at the club and no one was there as the match was moved indoors because of the threat of rain. I hustled to the indoor courts and everyone was already well into the warmup. I didn’t do my dynamic flexibility warmups before playing because I had already made everyone wait. Sure I am a little tight from playing the day before but I will loosen up while playing. In the sixth game I felt a little pull in my calf muscle. One game letter I went to change direction and felt a pop in my calf.

We athletes are not that smart about injuries. If we can still play, many of us do. I tried to play but I couldn’t push off. I was done for the night. I stopped playing. Only the second time in 30+ years that I stopped mid match.

Unable to put any weight on my leg, I took the steps one at a time, dragging my bad leg behind.

I was a little concerned but figured I would feel fine in a day or two. I had to be ok because I had grass court practice set up for later that week.

The strong denial of athletes kicked in. I will be fine in a day or two. Day after day, though, I cancelled the next day’s practice session.

After seven days I was feeling pretty good. No limp. Just some soreness. I am doing fine. Ever optimistic, I continue to think I can play the grass with just a few days of on court practice.

And then, after a day of work in the city, I took the escalator down to the subway and about to leave the station was the train. I took a quick step to catch the train and POP, I felt it again. I hopped and limped to catch that damn train. And, to think, there would have been another in a couple of minutes.

Comedian Mel Brooks, when being interviewed as the 2000 year old man, was asked how do you stay so young and he said, “I never run for a bus, there will always be another.”

That night it was clear that the Grass was out.

The next morning it was clear that I would not be running on a tennis court for weeks.

I needed to pull myself off the Davis Cup team. If it were an individual event I could risk that I could get ready and make it through. It would be my loss if I couldn’t do it.

But the obligation to the team was to step aside and let another take my place.

For that day I was in a fog. I didn’t want to do anything but feel sorry for myself. I was mourning this loss.

But I am all about stories. Bad stories that just don’t work. Stories that set my bar too low.

I am glad that I am faced with this kind of challenge. To resist it is to make it worse.

Rafa always says, I will just have to work harder.

So by the afternoon I was telling a better story.

It is just a muscle tear. I have experienced much worse in my life.

I will heal and be back on the court in a month or two. I have increased motivation to work hard this year.

I will be able to let all my cranky joints have a nice period to recover from all the tennis this summer. I can work on muscle groups that are neglected when I am playing all the time and I will feel great.

The pressure of missing work is gone. I can do the work I love with no break.

I can participate in Tennis Congress. I will be able to achieve my mission of making a difference in the lives of others.

The new clients I have had to put off because of schedule can start up right away.

I can be a better coach as I will be more empathetic of the athletes I coach who are struggling with injuries.

And I get to live another lesson that I preach: to welcome adversity; to love when I have something difficult to face; to be able to look in the mirror each morning and say, “who do you want to be in dealing with this situation?”

I know the answer. I want to be the best version of Bob. A model for my clients. A model for my kids. A model for my grandkids. A model for myself. Someone that I can look at and say, “you do this in a way that makes me proud.”

Hey, Rafa, let’s enjoy watching the US Open together. When it is over, we can both start to get ready for the next phase of our playing careers.

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