Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rediscovering the joy of playing a sport - it's tennis this time!


Squash kept me sane. It gave me an outlet for all the negative, pent-up energy. I played it at least four-times a week for about 11-years of my life. And then, I had to stop. New job, new coast, and the opportunities to play squash disappeared. Some of it was an excuse, more of it was my broken finger, but the rest of it was about having to start afresh in a new place and building a new community. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to do that and balance everything else that was going on around me. I focused on getting my new life on track. It now is...

I moved to Norfolk two-years ago. These years have been some of the hardest of my adult life. When I moved to a new city in the past, I worked in that same city. Making friends at work is easy; playing sports at a local gym facilitates the finding of people with common interests too. Unfortunately, there is no work for me in Norfolk. The people I met were mostly colleagues of Puneet's, and I realized quickly that I had less in common with them than the tree outside my apartment building!! All conversations somehow devolved into a treatise on the practice of medicine, the day's patients or criticisms / parodies of the doctors at the hospital. I couldn't partake in the conversations, and being thoroughly bored is not something I like to repeat too often.

Another thing dawned on me - I struggled to get along with these people because they were anywhere from 8-10 years younger than I am. Their interests - basketball, video games, gangster rap, smoking hookah or just talking up their achievements - were so different from my own, but not so different from their contemporaries, that I started to think that the disconnect was more due to how, where and when we were raised. I have often wondered when this same issue will become an issue between Puneet and I. As of right now, I don't have much to worry though - she is an older soul than I am, more of a mature adult than I am. For now, I have nothing to worry on this front.

This winter though, a confluence of events changed the status quo. The last time I was in Mumbai, Nikhil and I started playing tennis at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. His game was weaker than mine, his strokes rusty, his consistency almost non-existent. The 2-weeks of playing in the sun galvanized his passion for the sport, and he found a way to get regular lessons from the pro at the gymkhana. I was to go back to Mumbai in April, and the trash talking had been on since December - "Manoj, you better watch out because I am going to whoop your ass!" If the fear of losing to your younger brother isn't a motivator in life, I don't know what is!

Southern Virginia, the Hampton Roads area, is very tennis-friendly. There are 10-courts within driving distance of my apartment. Additionally, this area is known for balmy winters. Not this past winter - we had one of the coldest winters on record this year. I couldn't get anyone to come out and hit on the courts. I had to figure something out, and fast. It was January already, and no respite from the cold weather was in sight. It's about then that I found a winning formula.

The YMCA has racquetball courts - a concealed space with high ceilings and great hardwood floors. I went back to my days growing up in Mumbai; we competed against one another by hitting a ball against the wall because we didn't have a tennis court outside the summer months. I started slow and built up to adjust to the faster pace off the polished hardwood floor. It took me a week to glide instead of stomp on the court, and my strokes started finding their range. The enclosed space allowed me to get more repetitions on my backhand, build my confidence up, work on my timing. The wooden courts, while great when I started, were not true to what I would have to deal with in Mumbai. I needed a concrete surface. I walked out of the Y after one of my "tennis-ball" sessions, and my next playground was staring at me in the face - the enclosed parking lot of my apartment building!

Every weekend this past winter, my favorite pass-time was stepping out of my apartment door, walking 200-feet and hitting balls against the parking lot wall. A steady soundtrack of hip-hop and EDM played off my Jambox, and Yaser often drove past me as I hit intently against the wall. People stopped and asked me what I was doing, and most drivers-by thought I was crazy. But I didn't care; I was getting more consistent every week, and my play in Mumbai was going to benefit from the disciplined hitting.

The two-weeks in Mumbai were memorable for a number of reasons, tennis at 10am in the 100-degree heat was definitely one of them. Nikhil and I had about 10-sessions over 16-days, and both him and I were officially hooked. When I returned to Norfolk, I decided to give building a community of tennis friends another chance. Piece by piece, I now have 5-folks with whom I can play every weekend. Funnily enough, they are all J's - June, Jay, Jamie, Jason and Joe. Most of them are new to Norfolk too, and were struggling to find a hitting partner. The last 6-weeks have been blissful again. I feel sane, motivated to do work, my relationship with Puneet is flying high, and I am fitter than I have ever been since I left Seattle. I am unencumbered to the point that I have started writing again. If I stay on this path, I might actually get Puneet to start writing too. No I won't; who am I kidding?!!!

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