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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

TLC Blog – Tennis and Light (Part 2)

Photo Credit: Carrie Bather

On this Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, we all look for the winter days to quit being so long and light to come back.

Sometimes all we get is a sliver. But a sliver of light is still light.

One of TLC’s cherished adult campers, who still plays six days a week, arranging work around his tennis (the man has his priorities straight), recently suffered a debilitating stroke. He is left-handed. The stroke has paralyzed his whole left side.

When I visited him in the rehab center, there was no getting around the fact that this will change his life forever. He didn’t try to get around it. But he is committed to getting through whatever needs to be gotten through to get back to as normal a life as possible. He is fierce in his determination at rehab, even as he grapples with long term questions of what this means for his life as a whole.

At TLC, we talk about the Three Crowns℠ all the time. The things you can control. He cannot control whether he had a stroke. But his attitude is “What can I do next?”. He cannot control that rehab is grueling, tiring, and sometimes discouraging. But his effort was apparent the day I first visited only a week after his stroke. He had already done physical therapy 13 times that day. He cannot control that this is – there is no other word for it – depressing and the challenge of a lifetime. But he welcomed me and asked how I was doing, how TLC was doing, how my writing was going. He reached out beyond himself in good sportsmanship (treating others the way you would like to be treated) in a way I’m not sure I would be capable of, given the circumstances. He was kind even in his grief and pain.

He is incredibly smart. He knows the challenges and odds.

But the one time he broke into a spontaneous smile was when he said, “I played tennis today.” I thought – as has been the case with other family or friends who have suffered strokes – that he was confused.

I asked where he played. He said at PT. I said “You played tennis at PT?”, never having heard of such a thing before. He assured me he had. He seemed more lucid than I am on my best days, but I was still confused. “Where?” “In the gym downstairs. They threw tennis balls to me and I hit them.” I said, “I thought you were left handed.”

He said, “I am.” “But you said you hit tennis balls and your left side is paralyzed.” He was patient with me, as one would need to be with a little child. “I used my right hand.” “Oh! How did it go?”

“Balls went all over the place.” Then he smiled again. “But my slice was pretty good.”

I asked him if tennis is a regular regiment in PT, and he said no. But another of our TLC adult campers, serendipitously, is a physical therapist at the rehab unit he is in. And he thinks that, though that physical therapist camper is not his therapist, he told the others what he needed.

So now he is going to play tennis every day.

This is not meant to be a “feel good” story. He does not “feel good”. He is working to recreate a life that was snatched from him in an instant. The road is long, the outcome is uncertain, just as it is for all of us.

I asked him what I should share with the tennis community who know him when I see them. He thought a while, looked pensive, then said “Enjoy every minute.”

I left his room not long after.

As I got into the hall, he called me back. “Is the first adult camp this summer full?” I said not yet, but it’s filling fast. He said, “That’s my goal.”

I said, “I’ll save a spot, left handed or right handed, it’s yours.”

The longest night of the year.

He is going through it.

And yet, he is turning towards the light, even as he works his way through great darkness.

When given a choice, as far as humanly possible, even if it’s just a sliver, choose light. The choice will send light waves through a sometimes very dark world, and someone else’s path will be illuminated with new hope. Mine was.


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