The past five weeks have been like living in a disaster movie — unbelievably frightening and anxiety provoking. While we all are coping with the unfathomable loss and distress so many in our community, our country, and the world are facing due to the Coronavirus outbreak, we also are figuring out how to continue our day-to-day lives while protecting ourselves and others by obeying guidelines to stay home and practice social distancing.
Two weeks ago, with the temperature in the low 40s and the wind whipping at 20 mph, I strolled through the UMASS campus just hoping to get a glimpse of people. I saw three people the entire 40 minutes, and these were people walking their dogs. Interesting to note that Sweet Paws, a New England-based animal rescue site, has curtailed applications for a short while because there are too many to process. We all need comfort, companionship, and a little distraction as we wade (and wait) through the pandemic together.
Almost all of the tennis courts in the western Massachusetts area are now locked, and the USTA has just sent out a warning to all of its members asking us to put down our rackets for the foreseeable future. So now what? Tennis is not only a much needed activity. Tennis is a form of communication, a connection. There have been very few times in my life that I have not held a racket, have been forced to take a break. One of these times was about 12 years ago when I had brain surgery to relieve a blockage in my brain stem. Then I was out for five months, but it was so much different than this. Now I am healthy enough and ready to play, it’s finally warming up, and both my psyche and body are clamoring to get out there. I know however that I am in the over-70 “at risk” category. When did that happen? I also know that I do not want to be a part of either infecting anyone else or elongating this quarantine. So…what to do now?
Many, many (too many) years ago when I was quite young and there were no indoor courts, I was forced to be creative about ways to entertain myself with the tennis racket. Hitting on the garage door was an activity, and I got quite good at it. Hitting volleys over a table or chairs with another person probably taught me to have softer hands and more control. These options come back to me now as possibilities to help me navigate the next many weeks and perhaps months.
Just six weeks ago I was training to play the National Clay Courts in West Palm Beach, Florida. I was hoping to do well so as to get selected by the USTA to play on the Super Senior World Team event scheduled for October in Mallorca, Spain. At this moment with all ITF and USTA tournaments shut down, no one knows if this event will take place. We are all on hold.
Why is this loss so difficult? I have had to really grapple with the answer to this question. Is it the loss of physical activity? Yes, indeed. For me, tennis is a way to move, to sweat, to push myself. Having a racket in my hand makes me feel complete. Is it the absence of connection? Absolutely. Hitting the ball back and forth is a way of communication, a connection. Seeing others do the same on adjacent courts offers up a form of unspoken comradery. Is it the lack of purpose? Of course. My year is mapped out with selected tournaments, preparing for these tournaments, teaching and volunteering for two nonprofits. The weeks (on my calendar) are full.
How do I weather this pandemic, stay hopeful, stay connected, stay fit with an eye toward the days when I can get back on the court?
A little over a week ago one of my World Team teammates set up an hour personal fitness time with a personal trainer that she uses. She lives in North Carolina. She invited seven of us who play national events to join her twice a week in a zoom workout with the trainer. The workout is geared toward tennis and is appropriate for at home. At the end of the first hour we all commented on how great this felt but more importantly how wonderful it was to connect with each other, how much we missed the interaction that we share. We decided to continue to this activity twice a week until the virus subsides.
A young daughter of one of my past players at UMASS had just begun to play tournaments. The mom asked me to design some footwork drills for her 11 year old and then do the drills with her a couple of times per week online. I am doing this now as a regular part of my week. It allows me an opportunity to feel purposeful, helpful in a way that I appreciate.
So I have come to this. I am on a break but I can still connect with my tennis friends through our weekly trainer led workouts. I can still give back to a young girl so eager to learn. And I can be creative about putting the racket in my hand and moving around. It doesn’t look as though Mallorca will happen. It’s not about that right now. It’s about grabbing hold of what I love about the sport and not giving up on these things.
My tennis rackets sit in the corner of my home. I look at them longingly. Perhaps it’s time for me to reveal them, to hold them in my hands. Actually, the sun has just come out and the temperature is rising. The garage door beckons…. I am on the way.
– Judy Dixon
Post-Script: Stay well and stay safe! Please feel free to post messages about how you are coping, tennis-related and otherwise, as you navigate the impact of this pandemic. I read that the U.S. Open Tennis Courts are being turned into a hospital, and am reminded that I want to shout out my deepest appreciation for the many healthcare workers fighting this fight, especially those who are local, many of whom are also a part of the Western Mass tennis community. I am proud to be a part of this strong and supportive community. I look forward to when we will all see each other on our courts again.