In 2004, James Blake's life was getting more perfect by the day. A rising tennis star, with each passing year his game seemed to improve. In 2002, he was named Sexiest Male Athlete by People, and along the way he continued to gain in the rankings and earn respect on the court. Each day seemed to offer a new milestone, a new achievement; he was leading a charmed life and loving every minute of the ride.
But that life came to an abrupt halt in May 2004 when Blake broke his back in a freak accident on the court. A few months later, as Blake was recovering from his injury, he suffered another tremendous setback when his father-the man who had raised him and provided the inspiration for his tennis career-lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Blake's situation was further complicated when he contracted Zoster, a rare virus that paralyzed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardized tennis career.
Breaking Back tells the story of the tumultous year that followed these three devastating events, detailing how Blake persevered through hardship to become one of the best tennis players in the world. Here Blake explains how the wisdom and words that his father imparted to him over the years gave him the ability to succeed in the face of these seemingly insurmountable odds. Though these trials proved the most difficult of his life, ultimately this trifecta of tragedy became the culmination of all his father's lessons, showing Blake that even in death, his father was still teaching him how to be a man.
In the spirit of Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking comes this remarkable tale of strength and determination from one of tennis's biggest stars. A story of passion, willpower, and the unbreakable bonds between a father and a son, Breaking Back is one athlete's account of finding hope in the bleakest of times.
Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprah and The Tonight Show , shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: -You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort.- At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.) Copyright (c) 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
July 05, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Breaking Back by James Blake
Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.
For professional tennis players, December is an annual abyss.
The year's competition is done, and everyone on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour scatters around the planet to relax for the only month of our sport's notoriously stingy off- season. Come January, those of us who aren't nursing injuries will flock to Australia, or one of a handful of other destinations, for the first tournaments of the New Year. From there, we will continue to travel and play on and off for the better part of the next eleven months.
Success in professional sports is a funny thing. You might say that pro athletes live with three certainties looming over them: Death, taxes, and retirement. In the back of your mind, you know that no matter how good you are, what you've got is either fleeting or finite--at some point it's going to end, either by choice or because your body will simply give out.
So, much as we welcome our downtime in December, we must also contend with the what- ifs that it brings: What if I just had the best year I'm capable of? What if this slump I'm in isn't really a slump? What if it's the beginning of the long, slow slide to oblivion? Even the best player in the world faces his own versions of this question: what if this was my last year of being number one? What if that new teenager everyone's buzzing about is even better than I am? What if I get injured next year and it all comes screeching to a halt?
For most players, these are the questions that come up every December, but for me, December 2003 was the first year that I really found myself asking them. In 1999, I left college after my sophomore year to become a professional tennis player, but it took me a few Decembers before I really came to understand the abyss that the month presents. Like many young athletes, I was having too much fun for such weighty introspection. The ATP tour is like a kind of traveling neverland, where no one forces you to grow up. So a lot of the guys are indistinguishable from overgrown adolescents--when not hitting tennis balls, or the gym, we spend our time hanging out, playing poker, watching television, mastering video games, instant messaging each other, perfecting iPod playlists, and planning the occasional practical joke.
Don't get me wrong, staying fit and honing your game are hard work, and if you do them right, they consume several hours a day. In addition, there are the other commitments--interviews, photo shoots, personal appearances, and promoting whatever tournament you find yourself in on any given week. But when you stack it up against most other "jobs," life out on the tour is basically a dream, in more ways than one. It's a dream come true, because most of us grew up idolizing professional athletes and can hardly believe we've become one ourselves, and the higher you climb, the more surreal it gets. People recognize you on the street; designers throw clothes at you on the off chance that a reporter might mention it in print; hordes of children line up outside your practice court to have you autograph tennis balls, rackets, hats, or even body parts when nothing else is available; and you spend a ridiculous amount of time on airplanes, literally living among the clouds.
In some ways, I think that the experience has been stranger for me than it has for most of my peers because I was never supposed to make my living as a jock. If most adolescent athletes have "sports parents," then I had "school parents"--a mother and father who revered education above everything else and treated it as a lifelong pursuit, not just something to occupy you until age twenty- one. On a daily basis, they demonstrated their commitment to learning by using themselves as examples. My mother, Betty, is a voracious reader and occasional writer, while my father, Tom, continued to enhance his communication skills well into his fifties by reading and by taking a vocabularybuilding class.
Early on, my parents had to endure some social hardships as a mixed- race couple. My father was black and my mother white, and it wasn't always easy. One night, early in their courtship, they were dining at a restaurant and my father caught another man staring at them. "I have nice teeth, too," my father said, grinning broadly at the guy. It was a private joke between him and my mom, a reference to the way plantation owners looking to purchase a slave would sometimes ask to see his teeth. The man probably didn't understand, but my mother still laughs, a little sadly, when she recounts the story.
Despite incidents like that, my parents always maintained their belief in the essential decency of people, and they passed this faith on to me and my older brother, Thomas Jr. When I was a junior player, another kid told me he felt sorry for me because of my genealogy, predicting that I'd be hated by blacks and whites. I told my mother about what he said, and she replied that she didn't see why I wouldn't be loved by both communities, an outcome that hadn't even occurred to me before she mentioned it. And fortunately for me, what she predicted is exactly what came to pass.
Optimism of that kind was infectious, and the constant support of my parents helped me to persevere through the awkward and often ignorant comments of some of the people around me. While my interracial heritage may seem to be a tailor- made story of adversity, the adversity never really materialized in many ways because I never allowed it to overtake my worldview. My parents' inclination toward truly loving life and expecting the best from it shaped my entire outlook, helping me to believe in the inherent goodness of other people and keeping me from being sucked down into the darkness that sometimes overshadows the joy of living.
The foregoing is excerpted from Breaking Back by James Blake. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022