I didn’t always love tennis.
It didn’t always love me, either, but we were paired together with my dad being the only commonality. He was such a great player, and his hope was to bring out the same sort of passion in me.
But baseball was my sport—believe it or not.
I just enjoyed tennis as more of a leisure activity at first. However, that slowly changed the more time I spent on the court. By the time I was 12 years old, everything I knew and felt about tennis was turned on its head. That leisure activity turned competitive, and I went from liking the sport to loving it.
In all honesty, though, I could have never imagined the life-changing journey of self-discovery I would eventually be taken on.
One of the biggest hold-ups from me falling in love with tennis was the fact that I hated being alone on the court.
Fear and anxiety hits a little different when there’s no one else to blame for your shortcomings.
That sort of pressure was overwhelming and made me super anxious at first. But I started getting used to the nerves the more I played. It eventually got to a point where I was going to after school programs and played in tournaments every weekend.
But just because the sport continued to grow on me the more I play, the thought of having the weight of an entire match placed on my shoulders never vanished.
One way of coping with the anxiety was to focus on my style of play rather than the outcome.
As a lefty, I’d try to pattern my game after my two favorite players, Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco. It was the only thing that made singles competition appealing to me. More importantly, it made things a little more fun and less stressful.
Being away for weekend tournaments did mean I had to miss a lot of school. So my family eventually made the decision to enroll me in Johnson Ferry Christian Academy, which was a primarily home-based school. We only went to class on Tuesdays and Fridays.
It was also part of a Baptist church, where I grew in my relationship with God and was eventually baptized.
That school is a big reason why I chose to sign with Presbyterian College in the first place. It was very small and community-like with a sort of homely feeling.
Those same values were shared by PC as well. Patrick Fediuk, the head coach of the PC tennis program at the time, traveled a long distance just to see me practice and play in a national tournament. That sort of commitment is rare and something all athletes love to see. It was also clear that he had a close bond with his players with the amount of time he put into coming to see me.
That effort alone had a great impact on my decision to go there and play college tennis.
I hit the ground running as a freshman.
We were coming out of spring break, and I was probably playing the best tennis I’ve played in my entire life. That’s when I started to notice my forearm and wrist starting to fatigue. It wasn’t normal considering how well-conditioned we were as a team.
At a home match, I remember making a play on the ball, and after hitting it, I heard a crunching sound internally in my wrist. I didn’t know the extent of the injury and ended up playing the rest of the match. But the pain was so bad that I couldn’t even twist my forearm the next day.
That’s when I went in for an MRI and found out I had minor tears along the Extensor Carpi Ulnaris tendon in my wrist.
I tried everything— from rest to even taking a cortisone shot. I really wanted to compete for my team at the Big South conference tournament, but deep down, I knew I wasn’t able to play.
That’s when I started to truly understand the depth of my injury. It’s when I realized it wasn’t going to be a two-month problem. I had to accept the fact that it could take an entire year or longer for the injury to heal.
So I stopped playing tennis and sat out the rest of the season.
I tried to remain as positive as I could while undergoing physical therapy.
Looking back, I truly believe I learned a lot from that injury.
It taught me to stop putting so much pressure on myself and to just enjoy the game. I learned to have as much fun as possible because you only get to play college tennis once in a lifetime. It’s something I shouldn’t take for granted or become overly stressed about.
That newfound mindset was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
It made for a completely different approach when I was finally able to return. I’ll never forget that first game back. It was a doubles match with my good friend and teammate, Max Benson. I just remember being so thankful to God for having the opportunity to even be in a position to play.
I finally realized that I’m a pretty blessed guy whether I win or lose.
That mindset has also helped me cope with the season being canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I came into the year with expectations of playing regularly. So it was really disappointing how the pandemic crisis just came along and took that opportunity away from me. Well, for all of us, really.
But please don’t mistake that disappointment as anger.
I understand the times we’re living in right now are incredibly unpredictable. So I get the reasoning behind all of it. I was just sad because I really wanted to cement myself back on the team again like I did in my freshman year.
I still hope that opportunity presents itself over the course of the next two years.
At this point, I have two years left at an undergraduate level. Maybe I’ll use my third year to get a graduate’s degree. Who knows?
The only thing I’m certain about is the fact that I’ve drifted away from my own tennis goals. I just want to go out there and help the team as much as possible. I want to win a Big South championship and be more of a beacon of positivity for the rest of my teammates.
My love for tennis is as great as my love for the people around me. It’s also proof, regardless of whether I’m playing singles or doubles, that I’m never really alone.