Tennis Industry magazine

 

Your Serve: How Tennis Saved My Life

Felled by a grave illness, this passionate player used the sport to change her outlook.

I’ve played tennis my whole life. I competed in junior tournaments, played for the varsity team in college and went on to work in the tennis industry.

Then, in April 2015, I fell ill — gravely ill — with E.coli bacteria. I was on a respirator for weeks, received dialysis due to kidney malfunction, had multiple seizures, multiple blood transfusions, a feeding tube and brain swelling.

I was near death. To even have a chance to survive, the doctors had to induce me into a coma-like state under heavy sedation. Thankfully, all of their efforts worked.

As a result of my extended condition, however, I couldn’t move; my muscles had atrophied and I had hemiparesis on the left side of my body.

I started to receive lengthy, and very difficult, inpatient occupational and physical therapy. At first, I couldn’t stand up, even for a second or two. I would just crumple back into my wheelchair, my spirits crushed.

It was spring, and the French Open was on TV. It made me smile at first, but then I would cry while watching it from my hospital bed, not knowing if I’d ever be able to play tennis again, or even walk. The emotional stress was severe.

Then a life-changing event happened. The therapists gave me a small paddle and a balloon, and asked me to hit the balloon as best as I could. It was a pivotal moment.

The therapists were thrilled when they found out my career was in tennis. I progressed to hitting a light ball and looked forward to these sessions. I knew I had to pick myself up and work harder than I ever had before. I needed to be back on the tennis court again, no matter what it took.

Then I realized, this is what I do. Promoting youth tennis was my job at the USTA, and here that same philosophy was aiding in my recovery. I kept progressing, guided by the thought that no matter the size of the racquet, color of the ball or the size of the court, my life’s passion was helping me heal. It was giving me back my life.

When I was finally able to step onto a tennis court, it was onto a 36-foot court, with a red ball. This allowed me to hit more balls and ease back into the basics. I was extremely weak, nowhere near recovered, but the experience proved instrumental in getting me back into the sport. As I gained confidence and mobility, I moved to a 60-foot court and an orange ball.

We know that smaller, modified equipment and shorter courts benefit kids and beginners. But I know first-hand the life-affirming benefits of how they can help people with injuries, disabilities or setbacks that may hinder their ability to play tennis on a full-size court using standard equipment. While I still have many challenging days, tennis — especially short-court tennis — has been paramount in my physical and emotional recovery.

Tennis is not only the sport for a lifetime, it’s a sport that can save lives. It has certainly saved mine.

Ali Goldman, a PTR and USPTA certified pro, worked with the USTA for nine years in the Marketing, Officials, and Coaching Education departments and was integral in the development of the Coach Youth Tennis Program. She played varsity tennis at Binghamton University and has coached high school tennis as well as children under 10 years.

 

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