Tennis and Life: A Resilient Match

I remember the crisp pop the racket made as it connected with the tennis ball in just the right way in the center of the racket.

It was a solid sound.

I remember the feeling of oneness that came from getting your racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through with a forehand as I watched the ball sail through the air and land cross court.

It was a fluid feeling.

It was also twenty-five years ago. Or more. I never played much beyond competitive play in high school. Recreational play after that had its ups and downs, mostly downs. I played too infrequently to maintain any real skills. Friends I had played with moved away. Finding people with whom I was moderately well matched was challenging. There never seemed to be time. Life got busier with work and other interests. I barely knew who the top ranked players were and seldom caught a match on TV. Years went by as they do.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to play again and made an action plan. I researched my tennis options. I would take a lesson. It would be private so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my level of play with another player. I largely wanted to see what it felt like to be on a court again after so many years and get baseline data for my abilities. I wanted to work on the mechanics of net play, my serve, and my forehand and backhand with minimal running. I figured my brain and body still had the neurological maps for how to do those things, but I needed to focus on them in isolation.

Isolating strokes revealed I still had a lot of really good moves. There was a lot of joy in hitting things.

A LOT.

My mental focus is much stronger in my late forties than in my teens. On that particular day, it was like a part of me was watching me play in slow motion and I noticed what I was doing so I was able to adjust where I needed while I did it. I felt in control, which was something that had been more of a foreign feeling in my life lately.

Before I started, I was concerned I wouldn’t last the seventy-five minutes scheduled for a lesson, but my stamina held up well. I was also playing with my chemo body. I felt really good on the court. The feeling was there as soon as I stepped into the court enclosure. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to have a sense of belonging wash over me as it did. Then I realized the feeling was the mix of joy and excitement.

The joy felt electric, which is a very odd way to describe how I felt, but so much was firing together in my body and mind. It wasn’t just the popping sound of a solid hit or my strokes that felt fluid.

I felt solid and fluid.

I was capable and a little more whole than I was when I woke up that morning. My instructor was impressed with what I was able to do taking into consideration my current health needs and how long I had been away from the game. So was I.

You know how people always try to make things look better than perhaps how they really are? Facebook is a platform for this. So are Christmas letters. We can take multiple photos of ourselves and delete the unflattering ones instantly. This narrative I’ve spun about my triumphant return to tennis feeds into this need to always portray everything in our lives as wonderful. It’s natural to try to look and sound your best and put your best foot forward. But none of those are completely accurate versions of reality. Keep reading.

I am no star athlete and I don’t believe I ever will be. I just want to do something again that I used to love and be more active.

And hit things.

But here is my reality that I’ll leave out of the holiday letter . . .

I got hit with a rogue tennis ball in the head.

Of course I did.

I managed to keep all the balls I hit in my court and not hit any over the high net that divided court enclosures. My control was surprisingly impressive. One ball however came flying over from next door.

My instructor hollered, “Look out!”

I just froze. I knew a ball from somewhere was coming but didn’t see it. Hopefully, it would miss me. One more step and it would have.

Bonk.

After decades of not playing, I was in just the right place at the right time. What were the chances? What was the lesson? Life is filled with imperfections and this was simply a good example of one. In anticipation of my lesson, I had worried I wouldn’t move fast enough and get hit in the face with an oncoming ball. Here I was being taught I had nothing to fear.

Nothing.

Everything was still fine.

And sure, there’s always the lesson to laugh at whatever life throws your way, even if it’s a tennis ball.

Or is this the part I edit out when I share with others?

I guess it’s a little too late for that idea.

Which sounds better?

A)  I got hit in the head with a rogue ball from another court because those are the types of things that happen to me.

B)  It felt great to be on the court again. I discovered I still had a lot of good moves and hit many balls confidently.

I personally favor B, but know both together give a more complete picture of what happened.

Few things are ever completely wonderful or awful. Keeping the part in about being hit in the head shows resiliency in action. The ball bounced off my head and it was no big deal. I bounced back from that perfect fluke before that ball even landed on the court.

The lesson that offers the biggest take away for me is the lesson of resiliency. It shows up again and again, just as its name implies it should. Resiliency shows up going on longer walks, hiking a hill that seemed out of reach, and taking a tennis lesson.

Every activity offers opportunities for learning more about my capabilities. They provide me with templates to learn how to adapt where I need to and stay flexible in the moment.

Resilience always leads to growth.

Much like the tennis ball, being resilient allows us to keep bouncing. Whether the ball bounces in court, into the net, just out of bounds, or off your head, it bounces in the realm of possibility for making future challenges probable and more successful.

Resiliency is a good match for all of us, whether we play tennis or not.

How has life shown you that you are resilient?

Mirror Mirror

At first, I thought I was really reaching to connect things together in my life. Setting and achieving physical goals kept me focused on moving forward. Some sort of emotional “ah-ha” always manifested itself through these physical goals that were in process. My evidence is below.

One

Last summer, I wanted to complete a hike that required climbing an exhausting staircase made from rocks. The last time I completed it was in the summer of 2016. My body had been through so much two years ago and even more since then. But this is what I wanted to do and felt I could achieve. I began training in spring. Stair climbing became part of my workout routine. I increased time from ten minutes, to fifteen, and to twenty minutes in my house, going from my basement to second story, over and over again. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but it did what it was supposed to do and was a super workout. I knew both my strength and endurance had grown. I accomplished my hike (on a triumphant second try) and checked it off my list.

Work was going well in my weekly sessions with my fitness coach (permission given to shout out to Forest Coaching and Studios ). I also had made the difficult decision that it was in the best interests for my health to retire from teaching second grade. Necessary emails had been sent to my superintendent, my principal, my teaching team, and finally the staff at school. Describing those emails as tough for me to write is an understatement, but they were part of the plan to move forward with continued better health and my life. So, I was retelling all this to my coach while I practiced huge steps up and down from big blocks. It was all work going toward the successful hike. They were not average size steps. She commented on my retirement emails saying, “That’s a really big step.” Yes, it was. Then it hit me as I towered over her on top of one of these blocks that physically these were really giant steps and it all was a metaphor for what I was going through in my decision process.

My hike was something I had to do. I thought it was just about proving that I could do it. It did test my physical abilities and my will. Initially, it was planned as a birthday activity. It also became a celebration of a career that had successes, challenges, and finally closure.

Two

Building strength is a continued physical goal. Again through the support of my awesome fitness coach, I had progressed from lifting eight pounds to 65 pounds over the course of six months. Whooo-hoooo! Now November, I hadn’t lifted that much since summer. I worked on it again a couple of weeks ago. My first rep was tough. The blasted weight didn’t want to be lifted. I was frustrated. I remained immobile in my lifting position and commented on what was pretty obvious.

“This is heavy.”

Duh.

Then I dug into the lift. I slowly straightened.

“But . . . I . . . am . . . stronger.”

I stood strong and tall, victorious over the challenge. I almost cried, but I achieved it, and completed all my reps, with great satisfaction. Here is another strong metaphor for the emotional strength I’ve strived to build over time in terms of decisions, plans, and support I have needed to give myself. Knowing I am physically capable reinforces that I am emotionally and mentally competent to take on everything I do. I make the choices that are best for me. I am the only person who can be me. No one else knows exactly what’s it’s like. I get to decide. I can accept it if others aren’t with me. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. I am strong. I am enough.

I am more than enough.

Three

A couple of years back, I could walk an hour fairly easily. Due to side effects being on a certain chemotherapy drug long-term, walking deteriorated bit by bit due to neuropathy and then muscle issues caused by neuropathy. I didn’t have much stamina. Again I had to start slowly from the bottom. First, I walked twenty minutes on the treadmill. Gradually, I built that up to thirty minutes, and then forty minutes. When spring came I figured I was ready for outdoor walking. Eventually, I’ve built back up to a 60 minute walk. I feel my physical stamina and endurance mirrors where I am emotionally because I am so in this life for the long haul. I have more to do and need stamina and endurance to achieve all my goals. Just like with my physical strength, I feel my physical stamina positively spurs on my emotional determination every day.

Four

Now, I am working on jumping. I do not know how long I have not been able to jump. At the very least, it is correlated to the time when I was not able to climb or walk very well. I don’t remember really trying to jump for the sake of jumping before then. My “Jump Around” bits at Camp Randall Stadium on Badger Saturdays were always movin’ and groovin’, but not very jumpin’. Recently, much to my dismay, I discovered I could scarcely muster up a hop. I felt really old! Now, I can manage a high enough forward jump to clear a super small hurdle. It still bugs me. Surely, higher and farther jumps will be the next thing on the list to conquer. Interestingly, jumping too has an effect that’s mirrored in my non-physical life. I have been visualizing more writing endeavors for myself (like blogging, finding representation for a book I want to publish, establishing a platform). I must make a leap of faith. Learning how to physically jump again has been the hardest for me, perhaps because its mirrored counterpart is equally as hard for me. Well, blogging has become a reality for me, and that bodes well for my other writing goals. I will keep jumping in leaps and bounds.

None of these are coincidences. I don’t believe in those. My physical pursuits have incredible meaning for what I am working on personally. Cancer impacts both, but it doesn’t define either. I hope you can see symbiotic mirroring in your life. I’d love to hear from you if you have stories to share.