The End of the Road . . . Sort Of

My son and I are supposed to be in Mobile right now at the Southern Closed. We were supposed to leave yesterday for what was going to be his last junior tournament. He and I both had done all the pre-tournament prep. You know what I mean. He strung and re-gripped his racquets and did his laundry. I stocked up on snacks and drinks. He went to hit. I went to yoga. We were ready to pack our suitcases, load up the car, and drive the 5+ hours to South Alabama. I was already thinking about how I was going to structure my post on ParentingAces to share this final junior tourney experience with y’all.

About 2/3 of the way through my yoga class, I looked in the mirror and saw my son’s reflection as he motioned for me to come talk to him. I had a moment of panic. Any time your teenage son shows up at yoga unannounced, you can’t help but go to the worst-case scenario. The expression on his face didn’t help my nerves. Something was up.

Now, please understand that I had been trying to talk my son out of playing both our state qualifier and the sectional closed ever since he first mentioned signing up for them. He has committed to college. His junior ranking is irrelevant at this point. His TRN rating is irrelevant. The only thing that matters now is continuing to improve and develop his game for college. My feeling was that he could better accomplish that by playing some ITA and Men’s Open events. But, he insisted that he wanted to finish out his junior “career” with these last two tournaments. Much as I tried, there was nothing I could say to change his mind.

When I walked out of yoga, he said, “I need to talk to you about Mobile.” We were scheduled to head down there in about 2 hours.

My son has had some lingering back pain over the past few weeks. He had been treating it with visits to a chiropractor, maximum doses of Ibuprofen, and lengthy icing sessions after playing. All of that seemed to help a little, but, still, the pain was there. What he really needed was several days of rest, but his tournament schedule was such that that wasn’t an option.

While he was warming up yesterday morning, the pain was pretty bad which made him start reconsidering his decision to play a 160-draw junior tournament a couple of weeks before he was heading out to SoCal for some intensive training and tournament play. After he hit he called my dad, an orthopedic surgeon, to talk to him about his pain level and whether playing in this event would interfere with the healing process. My dad told him the most important thing at this point was to be pain-free and healthy for his time in California, both this summer and once his college career began. My son asked, “If I were your patient, what would you tell me to do? Play in the tournament or pull out?” My dad answered, “Withdraw from the tournament.”

Thankfully, my son took his grandfather’s advice and then came to my yoga class to let me know that we would not be driving down to Mobile. He was clearly distraught, still not convinced he had made the right decision no matter how many times I confirmed that he had. I hugged him, and he told me with a sad smile that I should go back and finish yoga and that he would see me at home.

While I was in Legs Up The Wall and Shavasana, my son was at home taking care of business. He called then emailed the tournament director to let him know he was withdrawing (luckily, he caught the TD before the draws were posted so an alternate player could take his spot). He called his doubles partner to let him know so he could find another guy to play with. And he started plotting out his rest/training schedule for the next couple of weeks until he leaves for Los Angeles. He actually apologized to me, saying that he felt bad we weren’t going to formally have our Last Junior Tournament Experience. Then he headed over to a buddy’s house to hang out in the pool for a bit. There was still this aura of sadness around him, but he seemed to be coming to terms with his decision.

A little while later, I got a notification on my phone from Instagram. Here’s what I found underneath a photo of my son with my husband and me when I opened the app:

 

Instagram

So, while I didn’t get to experience the definite closure I had imagined of knowingly watching my son play his last junior tennis match, I got something greater.

Reading the above words brought tears to my eyes. Not tears of sadness but rather tears of pride and happiness when I realized my son recognized – and was truly grateful for – all the gifts tennis has bestowed upon him.

My son and I have traveled a long road together these past 10 years. It hasn’t always been easy. In fact, I would say there have been at least as many ruts and potholes along the way as smooth patches. Nonetheless, it has been a beautiful journey, one I wouldn’t trade for anything. And the destination is certainly worth any hardships we’ve had to endure. My son is living his life-long dream, and I have gotten to be an integral part of the process. How lucky am I!

While we’ve now reached the end of Junior Tennis Road, it’s not really The End. Rather, it’s more akin to the roads in Atlanta that suddenly change names. Just like that, Junior Tennis Road has become College Tennis Boulevard. And from my current vantage point, the Boulevard looks pretty inviting though I suspect there will be many S-curves along the way.

I will be travelling this new path more as a passenger as opposed to my role as the primary driver and navigator throughout the Juniors. That will take some getting used to. I’m up for the challenge. Please excuse me as I climb into the back seat . . .

Boys Will Be Boys

boys fighting

Three weeks ago, I got a call at work from my son.  “Mom,” he said, “I woke up this morning and my right knee was killing me.  I can’t bend it without it hurting really bad.  Can you please take me to the doctor?”

Of course, my first question was how did he injure it.  His answer was that he didn’t know, that he just woke up with it hurting, that maybe he slept on it funny or something.  Given that he had spent the night at a friend’s house, and given that some other boys had been over hanging out with them earlier in the evening, I was highly doubtful that his knee just magically started hurting for no reason.  He had played a tough tournament the weekend before and was physically fine, so I knew there was more to the story.

Turns out, there was.  My son had gotten into a physical squabble with one of the other boys (I’m still not clear on how it started!), and the other boy threw my son onto the floor, banging his knee directly on the patella.  My son didn’t want to tell me about the fight because he knew I’d be furious that he was fooling around and risking an injury in the middle of a busy summer, tennis-wise.  He knew he had done something really stupid and felt badly about it.  I think his coach had already given him an earful about personal responsibility and taking care of his body once he heard about the knee trouble, so my son didn’t want to have to hear it again from his mom!

My husband and I both figured he had probably simply bruised it pretty badly and that it would take a few days to feel better.  In the meantime, we told our son to rest it and ice it to speed up the process.  He called his coach who agreed to feed him balls so he wouldn’t have to do any lateral movement on the court but would be able to maintain his strokes and timing while the knee healed.  That went on for several days.

Once he was feeling better, he decided to test out his knee in practice.  He played a set against one of the other boys and seemed to be feeling and moving just fine.  But, then he took an awkward step to the side and felt a twinge.  Not a good sign!  Luckily, he had an appointment with the orthopedist scheduled for the next morning, so he could have it checked out a bit more thoroughly.  The xrays came back normal – no ACL tear (thank goodness!) and no other visible damage.  The doctor said there is a slight chance that my son has a micro-tear in his knee cap, which wouldn’t show up on an xray, so he ordered an MRI for the following week.  In the meantime, he said, my son could continue hitting as long as the balls were fed directly to him, but no match play and no hard-core drills until after the MRI.

The drive home from the doctor’s office was rough.  I was really upset over the possible patellar tear, and I guess I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my emotion.  My son said, “Look, Mom, don’t you think I’m angry about this, too?  Don’t you think I know how stupid it was to get into that fight?  But, it’s in the past – there’s nothing I can do to change it.  Now, I just have to focus on getting better so I can get back on the court.”  My response to him: “I’m proud of your attitude and that you’re taking responsibility here, and I’ll try to be as mature as you over this, okay?  But, no promises.”

Since my dad is an orthopedist, too, I immediately got in touch with him to report on what the local doctor had told us.  My dad reassured me that, based on my description of the injury, it’s likely just a bruise that will heal over a few days.  But, he emphasized, it’s important to follow the recommendations of the doctor who actually examined my son and to take the necessary precautions until an MRI could confirm what’s going on with the knee.

Standing in the same spot and hitting forehands and backhands is great for keeping your timing sharp but it does nothing for maintaining stamina or leg strength, so it was time to engage my son’s fitness trainer for some ideas.  The trainer told him to get in the pool and do some very specific interval training – that way, he wouldn’t be putting stress on the knee but would still be able to keep up his endurance level.  Swimming is NOT my son’s favorite way to exercise, and he certainly wasn’t excited to trade court time for pool time, but he complied.

The MRI is scheduled for this afternoon with a follow-up orthopedist appointment tomorrow morning.  At that point, we should know the status of the injury and whether or not my son can resume his regularly scheduled training program.  Of course, we’re hoping the MRI shows a normal knee – no tear in the patella, no strained tendon, no micro-fracture.  My son is supposed to head down to South Florida on Sunday for a week of tennis camp with Carlos Goffi.  I’m hoping he can go.  I’ll report more after tomorrow’s appointment.

 

Help Yourself!

Have you noticed all the medical time-outs and trainer visits the pros seem to be having during their matches in recent years?  Sometimes they’re necessary,  but sometimes they’re a strategic move on the part of the player to shift the momentum of the match or take a time-out to regroup after a rough patch.  In either case, I think it’s time for professional tennis to take a lesson from the juniors and teach the players how to care for themselves court-side or just resign themselves to the fact that the fitter, healthier player is going to win that day.

Very few junior tournaments have medical trainers on staff – it’s just too expensive for the tournament directors – so it’s really important that your junior player understands how to take care of any minor (let me stress the minor part) ailments or injuries on court.  What constitutes a “minor” ailment or injury?  Of course, this is a very individual thing, but things like blisters, muscle aches, slight muscle cramps, a scraped knee, or a headache can probably be handled by the player at the side change as long as he is prepared.  If there is any question regarding the severity of an injury or illness, the player should seek IMMEDIATE medical attention.

Part of being prepared is making sure your player has the proper first aid components in his tennis bag.  A few things that my son always keeps on-hand are BandAids of varying shapes and sizes (including the special blister-relief ones), first aid tape and scissors, Super Glue (great for blisters!), Advil, Tiger’s Balm, and an old tennis ball for massaging tight or cramping muscles.  During tournaments, he also brings plenty of water and PowerAde as well as pretzels and either grape tomatoes or blueberries to stay hydrated and keep his sodium levels within a safe range to help prevent cramping.  A Frogg Togg Chilly Pad towel is a necessity during the hot and humid summer months – keeping it in a cooler with ice really helps it do the job of bringing down your player’s body temperature on those brutal days.

If you think an injury might warrant a visit to the doctor, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine/Spine Specialist, Carl Goodman, offers this advice:  “Stay fit and stay strong has been my mantra for preventing and treating most tennis ailments.  Lower back pain and shoulder problems are the primary complaints I hear in my orthopedic practice- light exercise will usually resolve these problems and allow you to continue your tennis activities. Complete rest is a no-no for me if you want to get well fast!”

He goes on to say that, for junior players, “lower back pain that does not resolve after 2 weeks may represent a stress fracture in the spine. Consultation with an orthopedic doctor is advised at that time.”

When it comes down to it, it really is your child’s responsibility to take care of himself while on court.  Whether it’s taping up a blister or rolling out a tight muscle, knowing how to “treat” those minor ailments during a match could be the difference between getting to play another round or going home.  That said, no match is worth risking a long-term injury or illness, so knowing when to say, “Sorry, but I need to retire!” is vital, too.