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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Excuse Making

Tom Mingo, TLC’s current Jedi Knight

A friend of mine, who has been a TLC family camper for years, woke up recently with double vision.  This is not normal. The longest three days later, the results of his MRI came back.  Serious maladies were ruled out, but he would need to go to a neurological ophthalmologist to work through it.

As you might guess, he, and everyone who loves him, exhaled with immense relief.

So what did he do a week later, with his double (sometimes triple) vision symptoms still present, before he could get in to see the specialist? He did what any self-respecting tennis player would do. He went to play tennis.  In a league semifinal doubles match (or was it quadruples? Depended on if he closed one eye…).

When he got there to warm up, the first hint this might have been a bad idea was when he went to feed the ball for short court warm up.  He missed the ball, which was not actually there.

Luke Skywalker, TLC’s First Jedi Knight (Needs Work on That Grip…)

His suspicion was confirmed when he went back to warm up his serve and said he felt like Luke Skywalker.  I reminded him that Luke Skywalker was one of the best Jedi Knights ever to wield a light saber, and he said, “I mean Luke Skywalker when his eyes were closed as a novice and he had no clue what he was doing.”

But volleys were the worst.  He continued, “You can sort of figure out ball path from the baseline and get a reasonable chance of figuring out which is the actual ball by the time it reaches you on a groundstroke, but a volley…I was standing there just trying not to get killed.  I got hit a fair amount.  When three balls are coming at you fast, there’s not much time to choose which one to hit.”

But here is where he is a better person than I.

Before the match, he told his partner about his double vision, but swore his partner to secrecy because he did not want to take away from his opponents’ almost certain victory by making an excuse.

He said, “For line calls, I couldn’t tell where the ball had actually landed, couldn’t tell if it was the one ball hitting inside the line or the other ball hitting outside the line.  So every call became ‘Good shot!’”

The match should have lasted an hour and a half against opponents they had played close before.  But 6-0 6-1 lasts about 42 minutes.

When he went to the net, all he said was “Great match.  You guys were awesome.”

This is the TLC “no excuses” commitment.

Karen Gibbs learning left-handed

It comes from Karen Gibbs, who died of cancer before her senior year in college in 1977 at Gustavus, the same year TLC started, but not before Karen told TLC co- founder Steve Wilkinson what became one of the foundational building blocks of camp.

She said, “Every time I make an excuse (and to anyone making an excuse, it’s never an excuse, it’s always a “legitimate reason”), I am taking away from my opponent’s accomplishments.  I am telling them that they are not as good as I am, and I would have won except for (fill in your excuse).”

The wind, the sun, the clouds, the final exam I was preoccupied with; my injured ankle, my kid with the flu, my spouse with the flu, my cat with the flu; the cold, the heat, the humidity, the dryness; my racket tension; my tension headache, my car suspension tension; the argument I had with my friend, my spouse, my child, my boss, my employee, my cat; my sleeping too little, my sleeping too much; my dehydration, my over-hydration; my not having played enough lately, my having played too much lately. And, my cat.

Even playing opposite-handed (because of the amputation of part of her dominant hand), and undergoing chemotherapy, Karen Gibbs refused to use excuses when the result did not go her way.

Tom Mingo, squinting and confused, but still undaunted

This week, Tom Mingo had a better excuse than I’ve ever had in my life for losing a match.  Double vision! And he refused to go there.  Instead, he shook “all four” of his opponents’ hands and said congratulations.

This is who we strive to be on a consistent basis at TLC.  This is what we teach.  This is who we are.  He has learned it better than I.  Which is why I am still here after 39 years.

I am striving to be like Tom.  I am working to be like Tom.  Someday I’m going to be like Tom.

But, in the meantime, I’m going to call him for a singles match before he gets his appointment with the neurological ophthalmologist.


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