Saturday, April 05, 2014

Lessons from Rafa - overcoming injury in my own tennis season

Like my tennis hero - the superhuman grinder, Rafael Nadal - I too faced a debilitating injury last year in 2013. Out of the sport for about 2 1/2 to 3 months with moderate Tennis Elbow. I reluctantly skipped one of the major USTA NTRP Championships of the summer, one that I had fiercely competed for years prior.

But during that time, I honed in my game, let my tennis elbow recover. I performed strengthening drills with my red TheraBand FlexBar every day.

The toughest moments were getting out to the park and seeing a beautiful sunny day, but unable to hit.

That immobilization of the mind feels many times more painful and constricting than the physical pain of the injury. Every competitor wants to get back ASAP. But I knew I had to take it a step at a time.



Recovery and Healing

I trained extra hard on my conditioning and stamina using the "Prepping Like a Pro" training program I had practiced with Yann and Dan during the previous winter.

Focusing on what you can change, and crushing it - that is what champions do. Disabilities are only limiting / crippling if you allow them to be, but mostly if it is allowed to affect you mentally.


The Desire to Compete

One day I even went to the practice wall, with a tennis elbow wrapped tightly. All the walls were taken and all the courts were full, and still I waited to see if I could try to muscle a few good strokes with a soft foam practice ball for youth. I tried both the red and the green. Fortunately, I did feel too much discomfort - however, as soon as I tried the regulation tennis ball, I could immediately feel my forehand twinge and had to stop.

Those 2-3 months could not have come at a worse time in the middle of the summer months when tennis is in full swing. I aggregated the injury in only the 2nd tournament of the season (Shilou Open). When I went out to participate in a Charity Event for wounded warriors a month later, I was not even half the player I was - losing in the first round for both singles and doubles. It was devastating.

The Will to Win, compels us. The Wisdom to Know how, enables us.

Speed bumps - Living the rest of your life

During those long tennis-less weeks I socialized more with friends and tried new activities that let my right arm rest. I echo'd what Pete Sampras experienced. For Pete during the summer of '99, he had to pull out of the US Open, but he recalled that "it was the best injury of my life because that’s where I met my wife" met some really supportive and encouraging women that helped me feel better and my mind off the game for a while. It was a very fun summer for me and probably one I will always remember fondly.

But after skipping the USTA NTRP Championship at College Park, and actually was relieved about not pushing my elbow any further. Content to be in the atmosphere, I just cheered friends on and visited the College Park Aviation Museum instead. I knew I would have 5-6 weeks to properly heal and then train to get back into form.


Returning to Action - the dividends of being well-prepared

By the end of September, I was able to regain my peek form and finally secured the DC Open title (NTRP 4.0) which I had been attempting to win for the last 4 years. It was a privilege to play on the same court as the Citi Open (ATP 500) event I had covered just about a month prior for Tennis-Bargains.com

My final tournament was out at Leesburg, VA in a beautiful facility called Ida Park. The tournament director was very professional and I have always had great memories from the very civilized competitors that I've faced there. It is one of the farthest treks for a Mid-Atlantic USTA tournament in the DC area, but in my opinion well worth it. The perfect court surface and slightly higher elevation out west also suits my game well.

By the end of that event, even though I lost in the Finals, it was a very good showing in the 2nd half of the season for me. I played solidly against a very strong adversary who was once on the same USTA team as me, during a very blustery late afternoon breeze, and we both had really long rallies.


Be the Best you *know* you can be

With that strong finish, I was able to secure the #1 ranking again for the Mid-Atlantic Men's Singles NTRP 4.0 section. The year also allowed me to "medal" in all of the notable DC area NTRP tournaments. Finishing with the finals or championship in all these locations is a very satisfying feeling. I still can remember each of the trophies and not only the final victory, but all the emotions and the electric atmosphere of USTA tennis.

I would highly encourage avid tennis players (especially singles players), to give USTA tournaments a try because it replicates the true spirit and intensity of professional tennis the best out of any of the formats available. It truly is an Open field of competition and you must learn to be completely self-sufficient in these single elimination rounds.

For next season, I hope to compete at the NTRP 4.5 level and will continue to document my experiences. And I hope for all the readers out there that read this and all my articles, I have been one positive step building toward your own goals in tennis.

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