My Happy Place – Grand Rapids

My second tennis tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan really woke me up. It felt like a part of me was slowly drifting off into a dismantled world there for a little while.

I’ve been pretty good about keeping things in the works, but that’s simply what I have to do. It doesn’t take very long before I start feeling like my life is at a standstill and needs change. I don’t know if it relates to my injury – maybe I need more eagerness in my life in order to stay up – or maybe it’s just that I’m human – I constantly ask myself that question in relation to different things/everything – but either way, I needed to merge into the fast lane. I needed to get excited about something again.

Last Spring I was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma. BGS is a nation-wide honors business fraternity with a presence at Wright State who hand selects members mainly based on GPA. Fortunately for me, I pulled off my highest GPA the first semester I was at Wright State – by far. “Membership (in Beta Gamma Sigma) is the highest recognition a business student anywhere in the world can receive…” – Haha, hell yeah.

I also had about a two-month-long high after going skiing in New Hampshire last December. And since New Hampshire went down a good seven-months ago, I’ma just hold onto that 17-page monster. I’ll save it for my book that has been a lot of hype, no show thus far. Having a chapter in the bank will give me motivation to get my feet moving in that regard, anyway.

The moral of that (those) tangent(s) is to say I’ve been doing fine, but my news headlines are dated.

However, last weekend I covered some ground again. The other thing I have going for me right now is tennis – which leads me to yet again, the main purpose of my blog post. I haven’t had many back-to-back posts on the same topic, thus far, but this may very well lead to the first back-to-back-to-back same topic posts. I have a couple tournaments on my radar for the next couple of months. Actually who knows, maybe back-to-back-to-back-TO-BACK same topic posts.

My first tournament was great and everything. Not to sound like I’m taking away from Fort Wayne, or my first tennis match experience, but last weekend was my greatest weekend of the year so far. Fort Wayne was only a USTA tournament – Consisting of only lettered divisions (not including the Open division). There are a number of years ahead of me before I’ll find myself playing in the Open division, but I was able to see what lies ahead if I choose to make that a goal of mine and succeed. I’ve only played two tournaments, so it’s too early to project very far into the future, but I’ve been moving at a quicker pace than most. It certainly helps that I’m only 23-years-old.

In Fort Wayne, I was experiencing a lot of pain in my back. I’ve been fortunate to avoid back pain since my injury, at least up until late last spring. It’s so miserable when your back hurts all the time. I had to quit in the middle of my doubles tournament In Fort Wayne. Tennis wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I had to be responsible and avoid a setback, so I threw in the towel: “No joke, guys. I quit.”

I began treatment at Xcel Sports Medicine when I returned to the Greater Dayton area. The folks at Xcel can do incredible things. I immediately started feeling better, and was able to practice harder while playing tennis. My game was improving at a faster rate than ever, after feeling better physically and having a few matches under the ol belt. I was feeling overly confident, as the Grand Rapids tournament was approaching. I was told before my first tournament that I would be playing in the C division for at least a couple of years, but I never believed that. I didn’t know how long I’d be playing in the C division, but I knew it wasn’t going to be long. I emailed the tournament director and asked to be moved up to the B division.

I showed up a couple Fridays ago to play my first game in the B division. Yeah, I was a little nervous, but after all, I’d rather get smoked out than have to smoke someone else out. I’m not gonna learn anything if I I wipe up on everybody. My opponent, who I’ve become friends with by now, had been playing awhile. I definitely had youth on my side, but he had been around the tennis scene for about 12 years.

We played a pretty unreal tennis match. I took set one, after playing a 10-point tiebreaker.

I felt myself calming down too much, knowing that I could still win even if he took the second set… or maybe he flat-out played better, I don’t know, but either way he waxed my cotton candy ass 5-7, taking set two.

I did my best to keep my composure during set three, we both did. The match time had exceeded three hours, and our play was very sloppy at times. I started strong, a little upset at myself for losing the last set. For the first set of the match, I took the first game. We consistently traded the next seven games or so. Our match was quickly approaching four hours, as we started the tenth game (of the final set), I was up 5-4. All I needed to do was take this game, and I could unfasten all of my straps and relax.

I was serving, and I felt the pressure I was putting on myself. I served into the net two of the first three points, and he ended up taking the tenth game.

The set ended up 6-6, and we entered the second 10-point tiebreaker of the match. I was able to keep my focus, as I vividly remembered my last match in Fort Wayne where I lost the 10-point tiebreaker to lose the final. I started talking to myself to get pumped up. That doesn’t always work, but it did that time – I won the tiebreaker 10-7.

I knew how close the match was, and how easily it could have resulted differently, but it didn’t. Winning that first match was exactly what I needed. It was all that I needed.

It was a good thing that was all that I needed, because my second match started 15 minutes later. I was shown mercy when I got those 15 minutes extended to 45 minutes. I went to the restroom and got a bite to eat, and then I was called to the court.

“Hey how’s it going, man?” I asked my new opponent, as we moved from our daily chairs to our tennis chairs. “Not bad, just excited to swing the racquet again,” he replied. “Aren’t you tired??” I asked. He was a little older than the last guy, and I couldn’t believe how much energy he had. “Not really, no. I haven’t gotten on the courts yet,” he replied. Oh great, I thought – he was the #1 seed in the B division and had a by the first game, while I played over four hours.

I got embarrassed. First set 0-6, second set 1-6. It was closer than it sounds, though! We deuced most games at one point, or another. I just couldn’t ever pull it off. I still kept my head up. I was just happy I won that first match, plus he had 15+ years experience on me.

This was when the social piece of the tennis scene began to show its colors. I had about the best night I’ve had all summer on that Friday night. Everyone got together behind the Holiday Inn Hotel for a big social. We ate some food catered in from a local Mexican restaurant and drank from a keg full of a local brewery’s IPA – I love IPAs.

I absolutely loved talking to all the players. I met a few paras that had found their way to the Paralympics, and not just for tennis – basketball and sled hockey, as well. I also got the down low on some other sports that sounded fun – like wheelchair softball. I was learning a ton. I had never been around so many active paras before. It was awesome! Hearing different stories was really interesting, too. I haven’t heard so many stories since RIC. I’ll never forget hearing one guy talking about his story. Maybe it was because he was one of the ex Para Olympians and I looked up to him, but probably because his thick Brooklyn accent made it sound so real. “Shot in the chest for a gold chain and 68 dollas cash,” he said. There definitely seemed to be more of a realness factor to his story. It’s just like, “Ohh shit man. That’s so messed up.” Then you turn your shoulder and hear another guy say he fell from a water tower 30 ft straight to the pavement, and you’re like, “Duude.” Then you remember your own story, and you realize you’re just surrounded by it. Each story was just as heart wrenching as the next, just as heart wrenching as my own. It really made me feel, well a lot of things – similar, which is not how I’m used to feeling around others – positive, which is impossible not to feel after hearing so many miracles – and alive, which is TRU because we all here right now going for it.

I was out of the singles tournament, but I still had yet to play my first doubles match. I woke up the next day feeling very sore. I played a good six hours the day before, which I’m still working on getting used to. There was a massage therapist on site that taped my left shoulder, which was the source of most of my pain. Taking an SUV to the shoulder at 50 mph is no joke. That stuff will have an effect. The tape did help more than expected, though. I definitely need to buy me some of that kinesiology tape.

I won’t go into much detail about the doubles match. It was a close one. My partner and I lost the first set, but won the second. Then we played a 10-point tiebreaker. We lost the tiebreaker 6-10, but eh whatever. It was a great match, and I played a great game so I wasn’t upset.

A lot of the tennis players and personnel went out to dinner Saturday night, which was a lot of fun again. I sat next to a girl from France, and really enjoyed talking to her. I absolutely love meeting and getting to know people from different parts of the world, cultures, ethnicities, etc. It was around this time when I decided I wanted to make tennis a higher priority. I wanted to keep meeting people from all over the world. I wanted to keep surrounding myself with people I can relate to. I wanted to keep feeling like I fit in.

As I said earlier, if I succeed, there are a number of years ahead of me before I find myself playing in the Open division, but getting a glimpse of what the Open division will look like has given me the ambition to make that “number of years” as less as possible. I’m gonna keep going to tournaments, taking lessons, exercising, whatever I gotta do. I’m excited again.

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3 thoughts on “My Happy Place – Grand Rapids

  1. Diane Dynes

    So glad I was able to read this blog. It was so uplifting for me. I had to smile reading this line “I’d rather get smoked out than smoke someone else out” (which out of the context it sounds different…insert wink). It made me think of Lee. He used to say that he always wanted to be playing with a group of musicians that play better than him because that’s the fastest way to learn. Looks like you are learning tennis fast.
    Apparently, I missed a blog in June. You keep blogging and I will try and catch up on my reading. Best of everything for you, Hunter.
    Diane

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  2. Cindy Ault

    Hunter you are such an inspration! Keep writing and playing tennis. Meeting new people going thorugh the same sitiations as yourself has to be an awesome experience. You will experience and learn so much from them as well they from you. Please keep your head up and keep looking for what the world has to offer! There’s alot out there waiting for you!

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