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Our Sports Story: Because we are athletes, we understand an athletes’ unique challenges

Jennie Barr

To begin with, I am not a ‘natural’ physical athlete.  I was always small for my age, shorter than everyone else, and with no inherent athletic inclination.  In elementary school, I was the one not picked for dodge ball or picked last to be on the team and listened to the others groan as they lamented “we have Jennie on our team.”  But I have sports in my DNA. My grandfather was the first Athletic Director of Texas Tech University, beginning in 1925. And early on, I ‘got’ the mental game.  I had parents and other adults who reassured me of my value and ability – from my dad’s mantra “dynamite comes in small packages” to my mom’s “you can do whatever you want” to teachers who allowed me to try what seemed way beyond my bounds.

As a result of early support, I have pursued individual athletics, team sports and been involved in athletic endeavors far beyond my imagination.  I did childhood tap and ballet, and as a tiny 5’2”, I have tried basketball, relay track, sprints, high jump, and long jump in junior high through high school.  In college, I tried softball, baseball and landed on city-wide soccer as a forward on what was a #1 team.  And during this time, I finally pursued my childhood dream of gymnastics, loving the uneven parallel bars, the floor but not the beam!  In grad school, two of my friends/colleagues were competitive bodybuilders so I started weight training and loved that.  I played racquetball. I still do that somewhat today.  Post-grad school, I swam, ran, did weights, bicycled, and did rock (face) climbing.  During this time, I had the incredible opportunity as a member of a running club to carry the Olympic Torch for a ¼ mile during its cross-country journey to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics.  Later, I managed to join a Masters Swim Team at CalTech in LA while training for my first and only triathlon and did a 50-mile bike ride at the Solvang Century Bicycle Event.

I have never been a super-talented competitive athlete, and I’ve had plenty of injuries, disappointments, and insecurities about whether I can accomplish what I want.  The reason I have succeeded or continued – the cool people I met who invited me in, an encouraging support network, and the unwavering belief that I was capable.

Each of you has your own history, athletic journey, and challenges/successes.  Our collaboration will be focused on you finding your ‘mental mettle’ and spiritual strength to support your physical performances and move forward from current circumstances.  If you are a coach, mentor, promoter, trainer, or treatment specialist supporting athletes, our collaboration will be focused on harnessing how athletes reach their performance goals while maintaining the joy of participation and recognition that self-care is what allows an athlete to get back in the game – body, mind, and spirit.

Brad Kennington

After finishing my last season of T-ball as a grade-schooler, I knew that I wanted to remain active and pursue another sport. I was encouraged to continue pursuing baseball since I was ambidextrous and could prove to be an asset at the plate. But I had lost interest in the sport. What grabbed my attention was tennis. I was drawn to the independent nature of the sport. Win or lose, it would be on me. Or at most, it would be me plus one other taking on two others. And just as important, it wasn’t basketball, the sport that my older brother excelled in at the time. Tennis was my way to differentiate from him and have my own athletic identity.

I still remember picking up my first racket. It certainly was nothing fancy. It belonged to my Dad from his early years, long before he picked up golf. Navy blue, wooden with a large rubbery grip, it represented my introduction into a new sport and a minimal investment my parents had to make as they assessed the seriousness of my new pursuit. I started out hitting some balls with my mother’s friend who was an avid tennis competitor. She was patient enough to hit with me and allow me to get acclimated to the game. I would also spend many warm muggy summer nights hitting balls with my neighbor on the courts at the nearby University of Texas at Tyler. After a while, I had convinced my parents I was serious about tennis. They enrolled me in private lessons with a professional tennis player and bought me a real racket. I traded in my wooden racket for a Wilson metal racket with the signature “W” imprinted on the strings. It would be a while before I graduated to a Prince Pro, although I never really played like a prince or a pro. But with real rackets in hand, it was game on!

Through the remaining years of grade school, middle school, and into high school, there were countless lessons, practices, and matches. I felt at home on a tennis court. It was part of my childhood and adolescent DNA. The feel of the racket in my grip, the quick shuffling of feet as soon as the serve was made, the force of the ball making contact with the strings, the clap of the ball hitting the asphalt court, the excitement of the quick rhythmic exchange over the net all served to ground me, to connect me to the sport. The more I practiced my strokes the better I got, although I never really developed a strong serve; it was always the weakest part of my game. But my Dad always told me, “Put the ball in play and see what happens.” This isn’t only true for sport, but life in general.

Tennis is not a contact sport (unless you take a ball to the eye which a friend of mine did!) But it does have a way of wearing on your knees. Years of quickly running and stopping and twisting on asphalt courts were taking a toll. About halfway through high school, I began noticing how my knees were constantly sore. It hurt to walk. I could walk only a few yards before “popping” my knees back into place. But I kept playing…until I couldn’t. I was in my high school tennis class and my doubles partner and I had just started a new set when I was presented with an opportunity to make what I knew was going to be an incredible forehand volley. With my racket in volley position, I rushed to the net and stopped suddenly, but my knees didn’t. I swung at the ball but the pain was so excruciating I let go of my racket which ended up in the net. I don’t remember if I hit the ball or not. I just remember hobbling off the court and telling my coach I couldn’t play anymore that day. I did not it know then but I was pretty much finished with tennis, not just for the day but for good.

At my mother’s request, I agreed to consult an orthopedic surgeon. After an evaluation and some x-rays, he advised me to take a break from tennis and focus on leg presses to strengthen my knees before I resumed playing. If that didn’t help, he said he would then recommend surgery so that he could “go in and look around.” His words sent a chill down my spine. “Go in?!“ Look around?!” This was long before arthroscopy. Knee surgeries then resembled something more from the medieval days compared to now and with a very protracted recovery. The leg presses didn’t work. The pain persisted. I had a choice: allow my surgeon to filet open my knees in the hopes of saving the sport or put down my racket and walk (or hobble) off the court for good.

I enjoyed tennis and took pride in the game. It fit my personality. Tennis is played either individually or with just one other person but still allows athletes to belong to a larger team, a tribe. The game was much more than just about winning or losing. It taught me how to show up, how to meet each return as a new opportunity, and how to challenge myself and be challenged by my doubles partner and opponents to excel. Tennis taught me how to rely on myself in singles and how to share the responsibility in doubles. It showed me the importance of being flexible and thinking quickly on my feet. Tennis illustrated how boundaries shift depending on whether I was playing solo or in a partnership. The game taught me early in life how to face disappointment, trust the process, and know when it is time to just let go. Tennis taught me how to embrace endings. Game. Set. Match.

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Let’s Connect

Complete the short form here to connect with us. If you like, feel free to share any details of your situation.