Tag Archives: tennis

I Believe in You

I’m a big fan…of everyone else.

For some reason, I can see limitless potential and promise in the work and dreams of others. It’s easy to be a support system, offering encouragement and positive feedback, without an ounce of back-scratching reciprocity in mind. I love to celebrate people’s successes and revel in their triumphs—giant wins or tiny victories.

Even though I have generally found myself in fairly competitive fields and dog-eat-dog cities, there was never jealousy, envy, or any desire to trade positions with those who seemed to be riding a golden chariot to bigger and brighter futures. I simply saluted them as they passed through the clouds.

It’s exciting to witness a friend or loved one harnessing some hidden potential or exploring a particular passion. A sense of admiration and pride fill the space where bitterness or resentment could easily reside. I’ve always thought it was just lucky wiring to be free of that kind of burden—comparing my station or level of self-actualization to my peers. But I think it’s a bit more complex.

First, an interesting dichotomy is at play since I’m wildly competitive in so many areas of my life (tennis, board games, etc.), but feel absolutely no need to find rivals or adversaries in the work world. I hold fervent beliefs and opinions about almost everything, and I have zero reservations engaging in heated debates about endless topics. I will go to ridiculous lengths to defend a stance or point of view, but when it comes to status, career, or social standing, I gladly and regularly relinquish my spot in line. Why?

By maintaining an “army of one” existence and basic life philosophy, there is plenty of satisfaction found from the simple act of meeting minimal core needs. A solid sense of security and a healthy inner circle are almost all that’s on my list. I’m sure a depleted self-esteem reserve and a backlog of darts that stuck just left of the bullseye haven’t helped my cause. But the core code was written long before the swings and misses, and I’m grateful for the ability to be a cheerleader for those around me.

Some shoot for the stars, and some look for the best soil to bury the stake. Comfortably in the camp of the latter, I prefer a foundation that remains right where I left it.

Adolescence Interrupted

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A Beautiful, Baffling Brain


Because of a shoulder I recklessly and relentlessly abused for the last 30 years, I’ve been forced to add another doctor to my Santa’s-length scroll. I tried to be affable, give it plenty of ice, practically cut the mph out of the heart of my serve, and even took additional rest days between matches.

Yet, there it stood, defiantly sulking in the corner like a toddler told he couldn’t have dessert. It wasn’t interested in what I wanted or how much I required constant, intense exercise to keep me sane. The decision was made to remain a dysfunctional nest of tears and impingements that screamed at me whenever I pushed it beyond its threshold. It was obvious I was going to need reinforcements.

I found a physical therapist who specialized in athletes and was fresh off a stint working with the Chinese Olympic team. He took a holistic approach and followed the theory that the interconnectedness of our anatomy makes isolating a specific injury area nothing more than a fool’s errand.

Fascia, which is the connective tissue throughout our bodies, functions as a kind of supportive wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they pass through and between muscles. If the fascia is disrupted by surgery or injury (or loses its stiffness), a variety of issues can develop.

Since this shoulder has been a nagging problem I’ve had for years, I was more than willing to hear his suggestions, however unorthodox they seemed.

So we got to work, trying to reestablish broken or compromised connections in unanticipated places. For example, even though the right shoulder is sore, the problem could be originating in the left knee or hip.

But early on, some very basic exercises started to paint a wholly unexpected picture. There were certain movements that were effortless to perform on one side of my body and absolutely impossible on the other. He remarked that he primarily used these activities to help retrain stroke victims. The more we dug, the more we discovered.

Because I stroll around this life with a brain that has been poked, prodded, sliced, beaten, and traumatized more than most, there are fundamental connections and channels that have been severed.

I play tennis like a maniac, I routinely go on marathon walks and hikes, I practice daily yoga, and I generally feel like a highly functional intellect. I assumed I emerged from the wildfire of my neurological nightmare more or less intact. But apparently, the smoke at my back was more of a smoke screen.

It looks like my habitual athletic movements established a type of overcompensation for some very fundamental disconnections. Because I’ve hit millions of forehands, the brain has learned to ignore the fact that there isn’t a normal relationship between my left leg and right arm, and the repetition of the activity allows that mask to remain.

I unearthed even more about a body and brain that I’ve been exhaustingly studying and researching for decades—but lying on a yoga mat with zero ability to move my arm and knee in the exact same way I’d done just a minute earlier was a frightening wake-up call that there’s still so much left to learn.

We possess some incredibly complex and mysterious cranial mainframes. Sometimes even the slightest disruption can rattle that cage in ways we may not ever realize.

So take care of that body, protect that brain, and nurture that mind. You won’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.

Adolescence Interrupted 

A Cinematic Pause

Nothing is more valuable for the sanctity of your sanity like a thorough reset. Although we have been conditioned to believe that only those who blindly and defiantly sprint toward the finish line should be lauded, more health and happiness is bundled with balance than whatever rewards are gained from ceaseless target practice. The psychological and physical punishment from maniacal ambition is a detrimental recipe for reduced days and a diminished quality of life.

It’s vital we find the opportunity and willingness to hit that pause button when society’s waves start to throw a little too much water into the boat—and drowning is a metaphor easily rescued by the right kind of flotation device.

Meditation can wear countless masks. Sometimes people have no idea they are involved in a meditative practice because it’s simply something they enjoy doing. But wherever you can find opportunities to live in the present moment and release the worries of yesterday or tomorrow, you are involved in a kind of meditation.

There are only two diversions that allow me near-total absorption: tennis and film.

I’ve discussed my passion for tennis, so there’s no need to revisit my obsession in further detail. But I’ve never described the transformative benefits of sitting in a theater or on a couch and letting myself become thoroughly engrossed in a movie.

Although this has probably always been a part of my life—I can remember paragraphs of dialogue from a film I saw 20 years ago, but I can’t remember a conversation I had with someone last week—only in the past few years have I appreciated this cinematic pause from my endlessly spinning wheels and cripplingly compulsive thoughts.

I give myself the permission to unplug from the anxiety and stress of my daily existence. I’m not exactly sure why these are the only two activities that tell the engineer running my obsessive brain to take a coffee break, but I am beyond grateful to have discovered them.

If a respite from the pandemonium that lives between these ears can be found on a silver screen, I’m happy to take my seat and escape the static.

Adolescence Interrupted

Isolated Incidents

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“To thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare

Framing an existence through the filter of personal perception is a simple task for an introvert. We walk through the world as observers, internally commenting on the people and events that paint the landscape of our journeys. At times, we question the motivations of the masses and shake our heads at the absurdity of society’s accepted rituals, wondering how we could be so far from average.

This self-imposed exile can both comfort and corrode, but the impetus to peel away the security blanket is often the needle in a hay silo. Our feet aren’t shaped to walk on the same path as yours, so we, quite literally, are late to arrive at the party.

My only respite from the streaming onslaught of thoughts, analyses, and a babbling internal dialogue is the studied focus on a bouncing yellow tennis ball or the two-hour “braincation” achieved by sitting in a theater, staring at a screen or stage depicting someone else’s adventures.

Like everything else, the chasm between chatty party guy and weirdo on the wall has widened with age. I have a hard time remembering the high fives and toothy grins, the eagerness to meet someone new, or the desire to play any role other than whatever feels authentic in the moment. I’m far too occupied swinging on the monkey bars of my own intellectual jungle gym to take a break and explore the rest of the playground.

Maybe this changes. Maybe not. I have lived a life of streaks and patterns, so I never rule out the possibility of 180s. But being a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by friends and familiarity, is a bizarre phenomenon.

Adolescence Interrupted

Sweet Spot

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Over the last two years, I have painted a picture of a life in constant flux. Towering highs danced with terrifying lows, and clenched jaws were often more familiar than easy grins. Riding roller coaster waves has become something steady and expected. But every once in a while, the universe grants us that perfect succession of events, and we become surfers on a glassy tube. These moments may be fleeting, but they serve as fuel for the empty stretches on that desert road in the distance.

I’m happy to report that this past week provided windows with unobstructed views on two different days, and those instances certainly satisfied the requirements for a healthy reserve uptake. I’ve learned to embrace that alignment of energetic forces—refusing to question how or why they are presented—and inhale the fresh air of perspective for as long as the oxygen is available.

As tennis players, we are taught to strike the ball cleanly at a section of the racquet where the strings specifically intersect to provide the optimum “slingshot effect,” utilizing the full capability of the frame to generate the maximum return from the effort dedicated to the practice. This same principal can be applied to every undertaking.

Set your focus, track the target, steady your feet, take a deep breath, position the sweet spot…and pounce.

Adolescence Interrupted

Brain Pain

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The pressure is mounting. My skull’s nerve endings are a direct gauge of what’s happening inside, but the psychological sludge is far meaner a foe. I never imagined I would have been so thoroughly thrust back into the guessing game after all these years, but apparently there is no such thing as healed.

Anger has taken occupancy where tears used to reside, and my naked defiance has been a strange bedfellow. As I’ve gotten older and further away from the hospital sheets and question marks, I’ve also become less tolerant of a body that refuses to play nice.

I live in a constant state of mild pain. Tennis, car crashes, too many years spent sliding around on skateboards…who knows? I’m fine accepting the fact that an aging body put through the rigors of extensive activity will show some signs of wear and tear. That’s normal and acceptable.

But after what I had to go through to be free of the daily shackles that kept me clutching CT scans and neurosurgeon phone numbers, this universal slap in the self-esteem seems unwarranted and cruel.

I feel like I’m karmically aligned. I try to treat other people well, give to those less fortunate, and walk a path of positivity and integrity. But there is a devil on this shoulder, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m making up for past transgressions.

I believe we have a series of lives and experiences built into the core of our foundation, and this particular lap may simply be penance for sins from an old story. I suspect I’m supposed to learn some universal lesson as I clutch a head of such unbearable compression that I’m waiting for it to explode in my palms, but it’s hard to make peace with a timeline of souls that I can’t even see.

Some wackadoo massage therapist once said that the tension and strain I carry around my neck and shoulders are from hangings I was subjected to in past lives. She told me all about the villagers who gathered to burn me in the square and detailed the number of times I suffered a fractured spine at the hands of these irate mobs.

I left that day thinking she was quite possibly the most insane person ever to work at a spa. Now I’m starting to believe she was onto something.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Last Gladiators

tennis1As another French Open peeks its head around a shadowy Parisian corner and into the sun, illuminating Roland Garros’ mythic red clay, I can’t help but reflect on the role this incredible sport has played in my evolution.

From the moment my uncle (“Just Steve”) gave me a junior Henri Leconte Head tennis racquet to gauge whether or not I had any inclination to explore this odd game of chase and retrieve, it was obvious I was hooked. There was something undeniably invigorating about sprinting and striking. Tennis was tailor-made for me, and I could feel its grip deep within my bones.

Now, with the love affair nearly 30 years old, I can appreciate much more than clean backhand winners and the satisfaction of straight-sets victories. This sport has taught me about perseverance, focus, concentration, and the simple beauty of a meditative activity to block out the daily chaos. The tennis court is the only place where I can center my full attention on one thing, and the deafening static from a world filled with toxins, distractions, and neuro-interrupters fades away.

This is the last non-violent vestige we have of the excitement and energy generated from two opponents put to the ultimate test of strength, stamina, and mental muscularity. For all the aficionados of that bouncing yellow ball, I don’t need to explain what superhuman abilities were necessary to complete that 6-hour Australian Open final in 2012. These are athletes at the apex of their incredibly fine-tuned abilities, and watching them work is nothing short of spectacular.

I am grateful every day for my exposure to this phenomenal outlet, for the consistent cardio thrashing, and that my knees, ankles, and shoulders are still willing to stand by me in the trenches. I have watched the evolution of equipment and technique, and I appreciate the skills of past champions as much as the potential of tomorrow’s trophy lifters. For me, this is not only a sport, but a lifestyle…and I couldn’t be happier to live it.

Stress Reprieve-r

rocks1I’m probably not alone at the start of a new year in feeling like there is a disturbing lack of daily equilibrium, and my colossal list of hopes and aspirations sometimes gets buried beneath the chaos.

We love to hit the ground running, chasing our resolutions with the speed of Hermes, determined to check each box before our energy fades or resolve wanes. We sprint after the better versions of ourselves, committed to fresh perspectives, remodeled work ethics, and the blind attainment of concocted goals.

But, there is a beauty in the balance.

Unless we are faced with tangible deadlines, our stress is our own creation. We berate ourselves for not accomplishing imaginary undertakings and then we let that disappointment fester until obstacles grow to slow our progress. We intentionally watered those seeds to ensure that our momentum would be stalled. Why?

Perhaps there is something innately human about the act of shooting ourselves squarely in the feet. I don’t often see other species carry on like this, so I have to assume the Homo sapien brain is hardwired to erect mountains from molehills and turn cracks into chasms. We need to feel like Rocky clobbering Creed or the monotony of our daily pedestrian activities doesn’t measure up to the daydream fantasy.

I am currently in the middle of some significantly stressful challenges, elevated by my own compulsive need for control in an uncontrollable arena. So I am fighting the battles worth winning and relinquishing the rest. It feels counterintuitive, but I trust there is a bigger picture still waiting to be painted.

I will continue breathing and finding that balance. When that’s less than successful, hurling myself around a tennis court for hours seems to be an adequate alternative.

The Dishonest Mirror

mirror2Our personal, clouded perceptions of the truth can leave us feeling less worthy, attractive, or capable than our projected selves. This negativity sets wobbly wheels in motion, and the small spark of an idea quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of inadequacy.

How many times have you looked at a picture or a video and found yourself almost unrecognizable? The energy and natural confidence we emanate during even the most casual settings has more power and influence than any static snapshot or passing reflection. There’s magnetism in the moment, and our trapped brains, locked behind bars of doubt and indecision, are no match for our instinctive willingness to shine.

This juxtaposition of worlds has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve lost a tremendous amount of confidence in the last couple of years. Job insecurity, a difficult relationship, and a general sense of arriving late to catch the last train have all combined to take a healthy hack out of my spirit. So much time and energy have been spent taking a step outside of myself, evaluating my station, and plotting a strategy. Trading hope for survival, an easy smile lost its lease to a clenched jaw.

But, this last week provided more laughs and tears than a “Marley & Me” marathon, and I realized that I still had healthy reserves left to give to the people who make my world spin.

Sending our best friend to San Francisco was no easy task. Memories saturated every conversation, and accepting that someone who holds a crucial spot as a collective support beam is no longer going to be walking in to a birthday gathering, strumming his guitar at every opportunity, or staring at me across the net was a grain grinding realization.

But, these bonding days and nights not only reignited the fire of our inner circle, they lit the fuse inside of my dormant core. I think we all woke up to the fact that our sunsets are numbered and life’s trains can travel unexpected tracks.

I guess the hardest learned lessons have to follow some tough teaching.

Saying Goodbye

balloon1At this point, it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m not a big fan of saying goodbye to the constants in my world. Chasing an elusive dream of stasis has proved disappointing and disheartening, and this latest realization has added another slap to an already-bruised face.

I have built a core group of friends that I can say without hesitation is the most supportive, open, caring, and genuine collection of males you will ever find in our modern, self-obsessed, and apathetic society. These men have been in my life for the last 12-17 years, and we are a circle that has defied all male stereotypes, rejecting the notion of “bros,” eschewing emotional safeguarding, and almost always choosing hugs over handshakes.

We have been an intricate and intimate puzzle with interchangeable pieces, falling in and out of the picture when love, work, and commitments dictated our level of contact. We welcomed new members and did our best to embrace rookies into the fold. But, the foundation was constructed from memories and moments, and regardless of connections made later in life, there is a finite number of people who have genuine shared history.

I have been guilty of taking these relationships for granted, assuming they would always be waiting for me when needed. I wanted to believe the band would look and sound the same, regardless of time. The comfort of knowing my most valued friendships all resided in the same city was like a giant security blanket. Even when I wasn’t around it, I was still protected from the cold.

Now, a vital member of the collective is leaving. The news was a mild surprise, having known the prospect was on the table. But, the sadness and nostalgia accompanying the announcement are more than I expected. Some of my earliest and most cherished LA memories and experiences are directly credited to the bond we built and the easy alliance born from the most unexpected common ground.

Those tennis days and music nights were some of my happiest. Even when I was barely working, struggling to navigate the financial hills and (mostly) valleys of this city, he was the one person who visited me each weekend. Breaking the loneliness and monotony of those stress-heavy weeks by hitting some forehands and sharing a quick lunch meant the world to me. I don’t know if he ever knew that. I hope he does now.

People grow and change and move. Life is lived out of a box, and there are adventures waiting for this wide-eyed explorer. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to honor the transparency of this blog and admit that dry eyes have not accompanied this post.

Losing some comfortable life consistency is nothing compared to losing a friend.