My belated love affair with tennis
All my life I have done everything possible to realise my dreams.
When I arrived in Bermuda, I had a long cherished dream: I wanted to learn how to play tennis.
I practised almost every day with my coach, Howard Cross, an older but very fit Bermudian with a grey, neatly trimmed beard and a charming smile.
He was always dressed in snow white tennis attire. Howard had two passions in life: teaching tennis and practising Tai Chi, and he did them for hours on end.
I was full of incredible zeal and a real desire to learn; that was all Howard required.
Often, we started our lesson at seven o’clock in the morning to finish before the heat. Other times we played until sunset. We trained for hours but I rarely felt tired. I was so into the movement; the kick, the jump! I was lost in the excitement and powered by my drive to be better. I learnt to live in the moment and think only about the game.
“Look at the ball!” Howard reminded me again and again from the other side of the court.
We played at the court of The Reefs hotel, surrounded by a row of slender palm trees, dense blooms of oleanders and a neat green lawn bordered with exotic tropical flower beds. Sometimes, I look at it and remember the very first court I played on as a girl.
My tennis story began when I was 25 years old in Siberia. I really wanted to play tennis, but there was only one court in my city of Irkutsk, and it was impossible as a beginner to play there.
One day, to my delight, the Government began to build a court near my neighbourhood. I watched with great anticipation, but the work crew did not finish it. They built only a grey concrete pad with two high walls framing it on two sides. There was no net. It was ugly and without character and typical of the Soviet architecture of the day.
In the back of a friend’s garage, I found an ancient wooden racket and a few balls. I began to pound the ball against the walls of the unfinished court for hours. When I arrived at home I proudly announced to my parents, “I went to play tennis!”
They exchanged a look.
Then my best friend, Zheka, joined me. Nobody taught us. We didn’t know how to hold a racket, move and serve, but we had the desire to play. We had a genuine love for this incredibly dynamic sport and our imagination propelled us.
When we hit the ball too high it flew over the wall. Our adorable little daughters, Masha and Ylya, were always with us and they went on a small expedition to find it. The forest began right behind the wall. It could be difficult to find the ball among the tall, green grass, and we had to find it. You could not buy tennis balls in any stores.
Often the children decided it was more fun to play hide and seek, and then we put down our rackets and looked for them. I remember their excited giggles and the cool wind rustling the birch leaves.
Twenty years passed. Zheka moved to distant Moscow. She began to train seriously as a tennis player and became city champion in her age group several times. I was so proud of her!
When I moved to Bermuda six years ago, I decided, “If not now, when?” I began to train as well.
The unstoppable Howard has passed away. I miss his slim and dapper presence for ever pacing the court, and shouting, “Watch the ball!”
My little daughter, Masha, is a research scientist in Maine.
Now the wind rustles the palm trees and the nearby ocean is turquoise blue, yet my excitement is still the same. When I hit the ball, it is a dream come true.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com
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