By Darla Jirousek
We’re here,” mom said, looking at me from the front seat. I looked out the window. “Oh.” At 6 years old, I wasn’t happy about moving from Ohio to Oklahoma and leaving all my friends behind. I had no idea of how the move would impact my life. Since I was new to Edmond and didn’t know anyone, my parents signed me up for tennis camp. It didn’t take but the first day of camp to realize that I enjoyed the sport. By my second camp, I had found my foundation that would build me as the player I am today. Making friends became easy through all the camps, lessons, and drills I got to participate in. The friends I had made 12 years ago at that second camp, I’m still lucky enough to say that they remain in my life today. Not only do they remain in my life, but I consider them family. Coming to a new state and starting off with no friends was hard at first, but because of tennis I have made so many lifelong friendships. As much as I missed those I had left behind, moving didn’t seem as bad anymore.
The summer before sixth grade, I realized something was wrong with my body. It became normal for me to feel light headed, sick to my stomach, and have a hard time breathing. Because of this I wouldn’t be able to finish practice. Not being able to stay out on the court as long as everyone else was heart breaking. After going to countless doctors and after taking all sorts of different pills, we finally decided I needed to be tested for allergies. To my luck, I came back with a few results. Six years ago, the word gluten was such a foreign term in society. For my first year of changing my diet, my meals consisted of salad, salad, and more salad. After that saying I was sick of salad would be an understatement. Around this time Novak Djokovic had just been diagnosed with similar dietary restrictions. His inspirational journey of overcoming food restrictions and becoming the number one player in the world because of it, motivated me. I began to fight my frustrations on the court, determined to prove myself. As my new diet strengthened my body, my tennis game improved. Before I knew it, high school rolled around. Freshman year is a year of “classification,” and luckily for me, I was a part of something. Family was the word I began to associate with our team. Having a support group in high school is a necessity. To my advantage the tennis team was mine and has been ever since.
Tennis truly became an outlet for me my sophomore year when anxiety began to sideline me. Feelings of worry, nervousness, and unease disrupted my days at school. Often, I couldn’t focus and sometimes had to even leave the classroom. However, stepping on the tennis court calmed those feelings. As I would hit the ball my worries floated away. Acknowledging this effect, I committed to playing almost everyday to battle anxiety head on and my love for the game grew stronger every day.
Junior year I faced my greatest challenge: surgery. More specifically, a complete ACL replacement and partial meniscus tear that put my tennis career on pause. The surgery left me immobile for a week. Even after those 7 days, I still couldn’t be physically active to the same degree I had been used to before my injury. Becoming aware of how long it would take to get back on the court again was devastating. I was beginning to realize just how much I was relying on tennis in my day-to-day routine. Since tennis had become my outlet, once it was taken away I fell into a depression. I am very thankful for the friends and family that I have who have been there for me. My parents especially, they pushed me to stay strong.
On one of my harder nights my mom came to talk to me. She knew I had been struggling mentally to find something to motivate me to stay strong. “The court will always be there for you when you get back,” she told me. Her words struck a nerve inside of me and I began to count down the days of my return. I found that my motivation became driven by my return to the court. Knowing that the court would be there when I would get back put my mind at ease. My journey back to the court became easier and each day I pushed harder. Just after seven months of physical therapy I was cleared to step foot back onto the court of which I love so dearly. This moment was monumental and something I would never forget. Having to take a year off the sport you love does leave a hole in your career however, for my final year of high school I have never pushed myself as hard as I do now. Tennis doesn’t just start with love, but integrates lessons such as determination, self-control, and focus.
This article and more can be found in the March edition of The Baseliner magazine.