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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

The Big “L”

I had the privilege of going on the road to meet TLC adult campers recently.

Tom, Jennifer, and Trudi Roesch

One trip was heart wrenching.  Trudi Roesch, longtime adult and family camper, advocate and cheerleader of all things TLC, ringleader of pulling groups together to make the five-hour trip to Gustavus from Cedarburg, passed away after a short battle with stomach cancer.  None of us saw it coming.  None of us ever do.  And yet, it is where we are all going.

Tom, Trudi’s husband and best friend, and Jennifer, their daughter, said they would like to honor Trudi’s memory.  I drove the five hours to Cedarburg.  TLC is like a family.  It is a community of people who gather once a year to try and figure out a better way to play tennis and a better way to live.

In our three hours together, Tom and Jennifer and I spoke about “all things Trudi”, her deep love and compassion, as well as her passionate fierceness that sometimes delightfully and maddeningly got in all our ways.  The team she volunteered with as a coach all wrote personal thank yous, not one-liners as is usually the obligatory case, but thank yous for how profoundly she changed their lives.  She had that effect on me, too, and so many staff and campers.  And Tom and Jennifer want to keep the TLC tradition going by endowing scholarships in her memory through the TLC 40 Love Campaign.

We all face darkness.  On the court, in our thoughts, in relationships.  Some darkness we create and some is thrust upon us.  Then what do we do?  Run and hide?  Sometimes, yes.  But Tom and Jennifer are facing it head on and walking through grief as best and gracefully as they can, in honor and memory of Trudi.


Another visit on this trip I was meeting with TLC camper, Rozan, who battled a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer a few years ago that came to her uninvited. We had emailed back and forth as she went through it and how disappointed she was she had to cancel her summer TLC plans due to chemo and its affects.  I threw out the possibility of her being an observer at camp thinking there is no way she would say yes, but she jumped at it.  She arrived with her friends and, as she describes it, “basically walked from air conditioned building to air conditioned building and slept most of the time.”  But she was with her friends.  And she was at TLC.  And she even hit a few balls.  Now she is back hitting in the non-air-conditioned heat of the TLC summer with those same friends, cancer free for four years.  And as passionate about life as ever.

Then Kathy, who had two kids who are remarkable human beings, so kind and open, giving and funny.  They’ve all been to TLC and came at a time a number of years ago when their life was breaking apart, as all of our lives do at times.  TLC was a place of welcome.


I found out through my visit, that Kathy has a third child.  One she welcomed in when the girl’s mom kicked her out of the house for confiding at sixteen she was gay.  The girl landed on the streets, homeless, and bounced from friend to friend, until Kathy found out.  She talked to her kids – I told you they were kind and open – and they unanimously invited her to live with them as family.  For years.  Now Kathy wants to eventually endow a scholarship for a child like her so they can experience the welcome at TLC every camper gets.

Finally, a story about a dear friend who I did not see on this trip, a self-described cynic, a no who tells me exactly what he thinks.  Even if I don’t want to hear it.  I did not know him when he first came to camp many years ago, nor did I know his motives.  He came to debunk the “L” of TLC.  Tennis?  Fine.  Life?  Really?  REALLY?  How presumptuous.  I did not know until he left that he was going to write an article about TLC, and squash the rumored “touchy feely” philosophy of the Three Crowns as a way of playing tennis and living life.  When I opened the paper, wincing, I read something to the effect of: “I went to Tennis & Life Camps to debunk the bunk.  I ended up drinking the Kool Aid.”

The unknown “Cynic” 🙂

The next summer, and for many summers thereafter, he returned with his son and I watched them bond over the philosophy.  I will not share his name because that would take away his reputation as a cynic.

I, too, can be a cynic.  I, too, despair sometimes about the world, about life, about the meaning of it all and if what we do even makes a difference, even a tiny dent in the warped fabric of humanity.  And then I go back to the “L” of TLC.  Will it matter in the long run?  Who knows?  But it matters in my life.  Now.  It keeps me grounded.  And surrounded by people like Trudi, Tom, Jennifer, Rozan, Kathy, and my cynic friend.  And you. And it is all any of us really gets.  Each other and each other’s struggles and small victories.  That is enough for now.  That is the magic of the Big “L” in TLC.  When we focus on it, it plays out in all our little “l” moments to form something that is bigger than all of us.  For now, that is enough for me.

(stories above used with permission)


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