By Dan Arkans
Ten years ago, I was a part of a tennis community like no other.
At the time, I was the tennis writer for The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa. Families that I covered befriended me, and I spent my days immersed in tennis: training with the kids and the parents, with weekends and nights filled with USTA Leagues, tournaments, and weekly matches.
Being single at the time, it was easier to find a tennis game by joining the local tennis club. Still, I did not truly feel like part of the community until I started hitting the outdoor courts every day. That’s when I began training with some of the local players. Eventually, I joined a rotation of men’s singles players and a USTA mixed doubles team. More than just finding tennis partners, I found friends in a new community.
After about five years of relative solitude, I got engaged. I also got pancreatitis and spent some time in the hospital. I was off the court for years. Time passed and my wife became pregnant. We moved closer to her family, but I never did forget my tennis friends in the Poconos.
I never did find a tennis community quite like that. There were some people to play with, and even leagues, but it was just different.
I played just enough to keep my diabetes in hand, but then last year things turned for a worse. My doctor told me I needed a stricter diet and to exercise every day or we would be talking about insulin. I looked to tennis.
When I couldn’t find a partner, I ran lines and worked on my serves while my children were at school. People driving by in the winter smirked at the nut who was running on a tennis court in 20-degree weather. I joined a local tennis club and even played on a USTA League team. My fitness improved, my game improved, my health improved. Amping up my tennis saved my life.
Later, I joined a men’s singles league at Sand Island in Bethlehem. As I was getting ready to play my first match, on the court next to me was one of my old playing partners from Stroudsburg, Tony Drago.
Turns out you can go home again.
We reconnected, and he helped me find my game again throughout the summer. Over the winter, he asked me to join the Stroud Area Regional Tennis Association 40 and Over USTA team.
My schedule has not allowed me to play in most matches, but I did play doubles with my old playing partner, Ed Bevan, in a match to determine first place for our league. Then there was this: our third-set super tiebreaker, was to determine the overall match outcome.
My legs felt heavy, my arms tired with the pressure of what that tiebreak meant. It wasn’t about me, but that special community that I had left behind. Mostly thanks to my partner’s deft volleying skills, we came out on top.
I talked my way into the lineup for that match, but I won for them. I won for every friend I ever made in the Poconos. For me, there is no community like them. They are special, and I get to play tennis for them.
Dan Arkans is the sports editor of The Reporter in Lansdale. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danarkans.