by Mike McHugh
Athletic ability is one thing I was never blessed with. It was a big problem for me in my youth. It’s frustrating to always be the last one chosen in a pick-up game of basketball, or worse, to have a stray tomcat chosen over me when it gets to the end. Among boys, shooting a free throw is considered a more crucial skill than tying your own shoes.
Fortunately for me, athletic prowess fades in importance as we get older. The nerds at my school all ended up pulling down the big bucks writing code for the next installment of “Grand Theft Auto.” Meanwhile, the sports team captains are hanging out at Sears, hawking dishwashers and wishing they’d spent more time on trigonometry and less on three-pointers.
It’s been a lot of years since my bench-sitting days. Faded are the memories of my rump accumulating enough splinters to build a bonfire. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t until now that I decided give sports another go. Laced shoes, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.
What sparked me was an announcement I saw from the U.S. Tennis Association offering beginner lessons. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my wife, who immediately seized on the idea.
“That sounds wonderful!” she said. “It’s something we can do together, and it’s great exercise.”
“I already exercise,” I told her.
“Drinking beer and watching my old Jane Fonda Workout videos doesn’t count,” she answered.
So we signed up for the lessons. Surprisingly, I found myself quite taken with the game. The only problem is that it ends up involving a lot of running back and forth—something that’s hard to do for very long in the Louisiana summer. Around here in summer, the best place to go if you need some privacy is a public tennis court. Consequently, our rackets were sitting in the garage getting little use, except as a spider nesting ground.
An opportunity finally arose during a recent visit to Yankee Land. We went to spend some time with family in the mountains of Western Maryland, during the one week per year that you don’t need a snow blower to clear the court for play. We dug our equipment out from amidst the spider webs and packed it into the trunk of our car.
Once there, my oldest brother, Steve, noticed the tennis rackets and said that he, too, enjoyed the game. He offered to play me in a round. “Oh, brother,” I thought. I had always secretly blamed Steve for having hoarded whatever athletic genes that my parents had to pass down. Still, being his older brother, I couldn’t refuse the challenge
Our set turned out to be surprisingly competitive. I trailed him by only one game, 6-5, when we decided to call it quits. I might have beaten him had the net not gobbled up the majority of my serves.
We agreed to a rematch when I next visit. Bristling with confidence for perhaps the first time in my life, I warned him that I was going to practice hard in the interim, so he’d better be ready.
“Let me make a suggestion,” he offered. “Try placing a beer cup in the service box when you practice your serves. That seemed to work out well for you whenever we were on the ping pong table.”