Six days per week. Seven or eight lessons each day. Seven or eight players per lesson.
That has been Gino Carosella teaching schedule for the last 29 years.
“I’m not sure how many players I’ve taught,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of math.”
All in all, it adds up to thousands of people – tens of thousands, really – that Gino has impacted on and off the tennis court since he began teaching the game.
Like many who love their job, Gino swears he’s never worked a day in his life. So when he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in late 2017, he set out to keep his day-to-day schedule as normal as possible.
“I remember the words,” he said. “The doctor said to me, ‘You have ALS.’ Of course I thought, ‘Well, this sucks.’ At first, here’s nothing more to think than that. Then, I focused on what I could still do. I started to fight.”
Every day, he continues to fight.
Very little changed about Gino’s life when he was first diagnosed. Always active, he even set out to prove his doctors wrong. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
“I was in denial,” he said. “Just to prove a point, I did a half marathon without even training. A couple of weeks later, I walked into the doctor’s office and told him. He was flabbergasted. He said, ‘Wait, you did what?’”
Gino continues to surprise his doctor with what he can do physically. Really, working hard and fighting is the only thing that makes sense to him, and dealing with health issues isn’t anything new. Gino’s wife, Maria, battled cancer twice in her 30s, when their twin children were younger than two. During that time, Gino said their family depended on the people around them to help get through it.
Many of those people came from the tennis community.
“The people I taught supported us, big time. More than I can describe,” Gino said. “They made dinners for us every night. They were there for anything we needed. They took care of our kids. Really, they were a blessing.”
Gino still has a bond with many of those players today, and he’s leaning on them — and many more — as he continues to fight ALS.
Ironically, it was only a few years ago that Gino was challenged to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the fundraising sensation that swept across the US and helped raise more than $115 million toward ALS research. At the time he was asked to participate, Gino had never heard of the disease.
As much as Gino continues to fight, he feels ALS. The little things have changed for him. His hands are a bit slower to react with his tennis racquet. At times, his speech slurs. He has a hard time making a tight grip.
Each day the ALS progresses, Gino slows down.
But when he has a bad day, or even a bad moment, tennis, and his family, pick him back up. One of the most memorable public displays of support came last summer during USTA League Tennis Section Championships. There, the players in Gino’s lessons put together a fundraiser for Gino and his family. They helped raise awareness, not only for Gino, but for ALS itself.
It’s just one more example of what the game has meant to him over the years. Gino began coaching full time in the early 1990s after growing up with the game. He knew from the start it was what he loved to do, and it was how he wanted to make his living. Gino even met his wife on the tennis court.
“She was one of my students,” he said with a smile. “The first day I saw her, I walked over to my buddy, Paul, and I said to him, ‘I’m going to marry her.’ I just knew.”
Gino has held teaching jobs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In New Jersey, he continues to run lessons at Nassau Tennis Club. He’s coached and played on countless USTA League Tennis teams, most recently coaching 2.5 and 7.0 teams to national championship appearances in 2018. He even spent time coaching high school.
As a player, Gino has also been a standout. He competed on many USTA Interdistrict teams and earned No. 1 rankings in Middle States in several adult categories.
USTA player and staff member Mary Wurtz learned to play competitive tennis through Gino, taking lessons from him just 10 minutes from her home in Pennsylvania. When he changed jobs and moved to Nassau, Wurtz and many players in her clinic added more than an hour each way to their commutes to continue practicing with him.
“He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in your life,” she said. “And on the court, he is unbelievable. I never saw him give less than 150 percent. He is a play-in pro who gives it everything he has.”
Gino’s kids will be college freshmen this fall, and Gino will continue to teach. He’ll attend his daughter’s tennis matches and his son’s soccer games. Whatever ALS presents, he will continue to be himself. He will continue to fight.
ALS is relentless, but so is Gino.
“I can still hold a racquet. I can still teach,” he said. “I’ll always put everything I have into the things that I can do. I’ll give it everything I have.”
For many, ALS creates extreme financial challenges for families. Recently, a GoFundMe page was started for Gino’s care, with $59,000 of the $75,000 goal being raised. To learn more about Gino, or to donate, click here.