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I might have had better odds of owning a winning Powerball ticket, given the way the previous twelve months had unfolded. RFJJAL Solid Wood Hook, Bedroom Living Room Bathroom Kitchen Bathroom Hook, Multi-Hook (color White, Size 4 Hooks)JHEY Solid Wood Stool Hand-Woven Rattan Stool Tea Stool Modern Minimalist Plastic Table Stool But somehow there I was in mid-July, stepping up to the baseline to serve at 9-9 in the decisive supertiebreaker, two points from a berth in the finals of the New England 40-and-over 7.0 competition.  Lurking tantalizingly beyond that was the chance to reach a USTA national team tournament for the first time since 2006 (I also made it to Nationals in the Tri-Level competition, which features a single doubles position, in 2014).

Even conceding that nothing worthwhile comes without a struggle, it had been unusually difficult for me to get to that point.   I battled plantar fasciitis throughout the summer of 2017 and eventually chose to take two and a half months off from tennis (a very small percentage of the resulting frustrations are detailed in earlier posts).  I returned to the game that December and spent two mostly pain-free months slowly recapturing my form and fitness.   Then one cold night in February I somehow forgot to pack both my sweat pants, which I warm up in on all but the hottest days, and my compression leggings, Kids Stool, Modern Simple Soft Round Stool Small Footstool Household Fashion Nordic Creative Change shoes Stool (color D)Dark Brown Premium Bridal Satin Canopy Top - 44 Wide X 89 Longa residue of two knee operations which I now wear whenever I play.  It was amazing that I remembered my racquet, but I might have been better off forgetting that, too, because about five games into the match my Achilles tendon went “pop” and I was back on the disabled list.  Long days and nights teaching and coaching, coupled with insufficient attention to my injuries, meant that by the time my Achilles healed, my foot was hurting once more, and it would continue to hurt all summer long.

I may not have been healthy or well-conditioned or playing the way I wanted to be playing, but I did choose my teams wisely, and those teams carried my 200-plus pounds of competitive deadweight into postseason play on many different fronts.  While I wasn’t able to play any qualifying matches for the Keene 8.0 mixed team which had made such a great run to Sectionals in 2017, I did the bare minimum (generally two matches at low lineup positions) to become postseason-eligible for Keene’s 7.0 teams at both the 18-and-over and 40-and-over levels, as well as the Algonquin 4.0 teams in the same age categories.  Solid Wood Coat Rack for Clothes Stand Hat Handbag Hanger H175cmW40cm (color C)Carstens Real Tree AP Camo 3-Piece Crib Sheet Set, PinkAll four teams were deep and talented enough to finish in the top two in their respective local leagues, and though I played no significant role in those triumphs, I was more than willing to be a part of their postseason runs come summer.

The 18-and-over mixed playoffs came first, but since most of our nucleus of players was over 40, our captain, Chet Porowski, viewed this as a dry run for the older age category and used it mainly to try out different combinations and get everyone some playing time.  The result was what we expected, though we hoped for better: we lost all three matches and won just one individual court.  I had one winnable match that slipped away in a supertiebreaker and one unwinnable match in which the opponents somehow passed off a recently-graduated Division II college player as a 3.5.  Her serve was better than mine, which in men’s competition isn’t saying much but should by itself disqualify a woman from carrying a 3.5 rating.   One of our women blew off our finale on Sunday, leaving us shorthanded and requiring Chet to put his considerable diplomatic skills to use when the opposing husband/wife team who were left without a match to play protested vehemently (word to the not-so-wise: just take the free point and shut up, already!).  The only other memorable moment came when I mistook the coffee dispenser on the table at IHOP for a syrup dispenser and slathered my pancakes with it.   Yep, it was a successful weekend all the way around.

We were convinced things would be different in the 40-and-over division, though, and not without reason.  We had essentially the same group of Keene-based players and me as the 18-and-overs, but fewer teams competed in the older age category, and that allowed Chet to skim off some of the female talent from other nearby clubs.  He also brought two of his tennis friends onto the team as self-rated 3.0s: one, Tom, was closer to a 4.0 in ability but hadn’t played in organized competition since high school, and the other, Scott, lacked even that background but had the athleticism and power to play like a solid 3.5.   Putting them with strong or even mid-range 4.0 women gave us two near-certain points in New Hampshire and two super-competitive courts even at the highest levels of New England tennis.  Chet’s longtime partner, Kristen, had been bumped up to 4.0 in November 2017, or we would have had three super-competitive courts, but we still got by most of the time with a patchwork of combinations on the third court, and I was part of that patchwork.  I was the only 4.0 man and had two qualified 3.0 partners.   Anne was closer to a strong 3.5 but insisted on taking all her own shots- and in mixed doubles, as I have lamented many times previously, almost every ball is hit to the woman unless she is rated a full point higher than her male partner.  Factor that in and I may have been better off with my other partner, Jackie, who also happened to be Joe Waldvogel’s daughter.  Jackie inherited Joe’s pleasant off-court personality and competitive nature but is much more generous with line calls than her father.  Although she excelled in many other sports growing up, Jackie only had about a year of tennis-playing experience, so her game was still closer to a 2.5 than a 3.5, but she was willing to be coached during matches and unafraid of hard-hit balls, and by Sectionals (there are no Districts for 40-and-over since the number of competing teams is smaller) she had also developed an extremely consistent serve. Lucid 4 Inch Bamboo Charcoal Memory Foam Mattress Topper - Twin XLSoft Flannel Folding Mattress, Rolled Quilted Thick Mattress Ergonomic Design Breathable 4 Zones-B 90x200cm H 6cm

Sectionals were held in mid-July at a handful of clubs in the Boston area, and we first needed to win our round-robin four-team flight.  Anne and I played number three against Vermont on Friday, and the match unfolded the way many 7.0 matches do: the opposing woman lobbed with exceptional consistency and called all the close balls “out”, and her male partner blanketed the net and mixed some spectacular smashes with other balls that hit the back curtain on the fly.  We made just enough shots and they missed just enough for us to win by a break in each set in a back-and-forth match.  The other two matches were also close, but we won both and so went into Saturday with lots of momentum.  We built on that momentum with an easy win against a team from the town I was born in (Torrington, CT) and a much more difficult one against Longfellow, a club located in one of Boston’s wealthy western suburbs that had been considered the favorite in our flight.  The consensus proved accurate and Longfellow also entered the final match undefeated, but Chet and his partner Sorrell came through in an exciting supertiebreaker, and that sent our team to the knockout rounds with a 2-1 win.  Plush Portable Folding Floor mat Thicken Tatami Mattress,Student [Dorm Room] Mattress Single Bed Floor [nap] [pad] [Cotton] Cushion Tatami mats Carpet-D 90x190cm(35x75inch)Floor Bookcase,Simple Kitchen Shelf Storage Rack Solid Wood Living Room Shelf Bedroom Storage Rack Multi-Layer-A 98x50x25cm(39x20x10)

Eight teams now remained in contention and the elimination rounds were all scheduled for Sunday, meaning we would have to win three matches in about a twelve-hour span to get to Nationals.   But all the rotation players on our team were available except Anne, who had gone on vacation after our Friday match, so Chet felt we had as good a chance as anyone.  Our quarterfinal matchup would quickly let us know the truth of that, for we were matched up against Cedardale, a giant all-sports club from north of Boston that traditionally fields top-notch mixed teams at all levels.  Chet’s plan was to put his strongest lineup out against Cedardale, a slightly weaker one which included Jackie and me in the semifinal, and then the best and healthiest teams left in the final.  It didn’t look like that would matter, though, as Cedardale had ringers of their own: a man somehow rated 3.0 and his steady partner decisively beat our veteran duo of Sue and Bruce at number 3.  We needed to win both the other matches, and both went to supertiebreakers, and we faced match points in at least one of them, but the teams of Tom and his partner Tina and Scott and his partner Sandy came up huge, and that sent us into the final four.  Jackie and I were going to be playing on the big stage. Offex OF-RUT-NF01A-BK-GG Hercules Series Black Polypropylene Stack Chair with Black Frame Finish, 880 -PoundStorage Stool Folding Stool Creative PU Portable Home Foot Rest Stool Bearing Weight 100Kg,Brown

Things had gotten so chaotic by then that it took her a few minutes to sort out all that she had somehow not heard before.  She ended up retroactively giving The Jerk a point penalty and Eric Morrow on the next court a warning for an explicit recounting of The Jerk’s behavior.   When the match finally resumed under the judge’s watchful gaze, The Jerk stopped going nuts.  He stopped winning, too.  It wasn’t rocket science: when they were able to just play tennis, the better tennis player had the advantage, and Zack dominated the last few points.  It had been a battle- almost a literal one, at that- but in the end we had achieved our dream.   We were going to Nationals!  To punch our ticket by finally breaking the Portland jinx made it all the sweeter, but it was plenty sweet regardless, and we celebrated accordingly.   The rest of the day passed in a blur as we went from Williston-Northampton to the main tournament site at Mount Holyoke College for pictures, high fives, hugs and USTA-New England champion glasses.  I loved the chemistry on our team and was thrilled to be a part of it, even though I hadn’t contributed as much on the court as I would have liked.  Given the injuries I’ve dealt with over the past few years, the sad reality is that I’m clearly much closer to the end of my competitive career than I am to the beginning.  It won’t be much of a surprise if October’s trip to Arlington, Texas represents my last experience at a USTA national tournament.  But many avid players don’t get to make a trip like that even once, so there’s no doubt I’ve been blessed to be three times lucky. 

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Algonquin 4.0 New England Champs! (L-R Ro, Alex, Noah, Kiran, Gary, Dan, Dave, Eric, Rob, Todd and Zack)

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Kevin Phelps was a handful from day one. The Bow native came into the world kicking and screaming twenty-four years ago, and the passage of time did little to improve his disposition. With a mile-wide chip perched firmly on his shoulder, Kevin spent his formative years giving the figurative, and occasionally the literal, middle finger to authority figures of all stripes in the Capital region. I was one of them, as his coach on a USTA junior tennis team during many of his high school summers. By then Kevin had grown tall and strong and more than a little bit nasty. He was a good player: not as good as he believed himself to be, but still genuinely talented and willing to practice hard to improve his game. Yet not surprisingly he tended to rub many people the wrong way with his cocky strutting, his sideways-tilted headgear and his Muhammad-Ali like pronouncements. Kevin was no Tom Brady, dispensing weekly doses of pabulum designed expressly to prevent even the most paranoid opponent from collecting any “bulletin board material” to use as extra motivation. He provided his opponents with loads of bulletin board material and couldn’t have cared less. P.T. Barnum may have coined the expression “any publicity is good publicity”, but Kevin Phelps lived out the meaning of that particular creed better than anyone I’ve known.

Like most people who conduct themselves as he did, Kevin had reasons for his behavior. His family splintered when he was very young. After that he was raised by his mother, Stephanie, who provided lots of love but had only limited success in shaping his behavior. Kevin’s relationship with his father, a former football player and coach, was much more problematic, occupying as it did that dangerous intersection between neglect and hostility. Even four years of hard work which led to Kevin’s becoming the first male NHIAA singles semifinalist in Bow High history didn’t matter to his dad, who only continued to mock Kevin for having chosen a “sissy sport”.ABYSTEPS Screens & Room Dividers - Vintage Bamboo Curtain Rural Room Partition Shade Balcony Commission Bamboo Curtains Decoration Green Screen Tailormade 1 PCsChairs Household Simple Plastic Stools Individual Tea Shop Tables Chairs European Dining Table Chair Creative Lounge Chair Fashion stool 46 55 81cm (color Green)

In recent years Stephanie Phelps began dating, and later moved in with, my good friend and USTA teammate Todd Toler, and that allowed me to keep tabs on Kevin beyond his high school days. One thing that I’ve had to come to terms with —sometimes more successfully than others — over years of teaching and coaching is that the progress of the people you work with isn’t always as linear as you’d like it to be, and Kevin was a prime example. In plain English, that means he continued to fuck up quite often. He tried to walk on to the tennis team at Division II Southern New Hampshire University, but his timing was poor: SNHU’s growing program had begun recruiting internationally, and his heart wasn’t truly in the schoolwork either. Kevin’s preferred destination was the military, but a substance-related arrest, one in a series of minor legal troubles, ruled that out. The transition to adulthood isn’t easy for even the most pulled-together teenager, and Kevin was a far cry from that, but he never inflicted lasting harm on anyone other than himself, which is more than a lot of people can say. And through it all he still had tennis talent to burn, so before long Todd recruited him to play on our adult USTA 18-plus and Tri-Level teams.GJM Shop Retro Iron Clothes Hanger Wall-Shelf Clothing Racks Clothing Store Shelves Display Stand Wall Shelves Rack (color Red Copper, Size 100CM)Flash Furniture Bedford Tufted Upholstered Twin Size Headboard in Camel Fabric

Having Kevin as a teammate was a unique experience. There he was, headgear jauntily tilted sideways, muscles jacked, just about every square inch above his waist —and God only knew how much below it —covered in ink. Wherever we went, attention was squarely focused on him, and he would have had it no other way. Even in his least competitive matches, Kevin yelled, screamed, and flexed with abandon. But the kid was a clutch performer, too, taking on some of the top 4.0s in New England and nearly always emerging victorious. One afternoon, hung over and throwing up in the service box, Kevin still rallied to win a difficult timed match on a sudden-victory point. He was remarkably fair with his own line calls, but heaven help anybody who cheated him — and since this was New England tennis, he had his fair share of dustups. I didn’t complain, for not only was he one of our most successful singles players, he also cared passionately about the team’s overall success, which is a rarer commodity in USTA team tennis than you might think. What’s more, the roving line judges were always too busy monitoring his court to catch my foot faults. Talk about a win-win. In 2013 Kevin led our 18-and-over team to the New England Sectionals and then he, Todd and I made a once-in-a-lifetime run to the Tri-Level Nationals at Indian Wells, CA, the following March (that run is chronicled, some might say ad nauseum, in earlier posts on this site). I’ll be the first to admit that Todd and I wouldn’t have gotten there on our own. Kevin’s big serve, heavy topspin forehand and in-your-face competitiveness were the biggest reasons for our success through the various levels of competition. At the New England Sectionals, he and I had to beat three top teams in a span of less than 24 hours (Todd was injured and unable to play). In one of those matches I had a stretch of about a set and a half where I literally could not have hit a ball into the ocean from close range. It didn’t matter, for Kevin just raised his game to an even more sublime level and pulled us through. In the clinching match against Maine, I played much better but began to get tight near the end. Kevin got up in my face and barked at me to finish strong — just what I needed — and we raised our level in the supertiebreaker to take the championship home. I will see his match-winning down-the-line forehand in my mind’s eye for as long as I draw breath.

I got to know Kevin better during our weeklong stay in California as we practiced, played and partied together. I shared some of my philosophies about tennis and life and he introduced me to new music (until then I had thought Logic was just a class my brother, a philosophy major, might have taken during his Dartmouth days) and gave me dating advice (you can probably imagine how that went, but it was thoughtful of him to offer). He stuck by Todd and me when our Connecticut-based “teammates” tried to throw us under the bus after some poor results, too. And though the tennis didn’t end up quite the way I would have liked, it honestly didn’t matter. We all have a special memory to cherish for the rest of our lives, and Kevin was a huge part of that.WAN SAN QIAN- European Retro Wine Rack Wine Cabinet Decoration Ornaments American Home Living Room TV Cabinet Porch Furnishings Wine rack (color RED)golden Linens Hypoallergenic Waterproof Mattress Predector Pad With Stretched fitted Deep Pocket Breathable Fiber bamboo, anti-fungal, Antibacterial, and Antimicrobial (Full)

Life pulled Kevin and me in different directions in the years that followed, and we were never teammates again. My playing time was limited by serious knee and foot injuries, and Kevin’s by school responsibilities: he had gone back to study business at Plymouth State, which has no men’s tennis team. As a result, I hadn’t seen him for some time before dropping in on his family while they were vacationing at the beach one day in the early fall of 2016. He was still Kevin that day, bursting with confidence, yet he was also growing up. He had made it through Plymouth State, gotten his Business degree, landed an entry-level sales job, and was working hard to climb the corporate ladder. He had a steady girlfriend and was talking about getting his own place. I left that night thinking Kevin was really starting to get his shit together. Given where he might have ended up, I called that a bona fide success story.

I wish that Kevin’s story ended right there, but it does not. Early last November he began vomiting and experiencing a level of abdominal pain which eventually landed him in the emergency room. Did he have some type of virus, or maybe a kidney stone like the one that had felled me in 2014? The hospital staff could provide no answers and released Kevin, only for him to collapse on his way out the door to the parking lot. After that, the pace of the diagnostic testing picked up considerably. The results of the ensuing MRI were unimaginably horrific. Kevin had a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that had already advanced to stage 4. There is no stage 5.Coat Rack Solid Wood Wall Mount Multifunction Hanger Bedroom Parlor (color White, Size 7 Hook)QFFL Coat Hook, Wall-Mounted Coat Rack with Hooks White Wooden Wall Shelf - Made of Natural Bamboo Wall Hanger (color White)

Kevin underwent surgery that same night and woke up without his appendix, most of his colon, a few lymph nodes and a tumor roughly the size of an orange. That procedure saved his life in the short term, but if he refused all further treatment Kevin was still going to die sooner rather than later. His only chance was to immediately begin the most aggressive course of chemotherapy available at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It had about a 70 percent chance of success and it would be debilitating, but Kevin and his family opted for the chemo without a second thought because it was his only hope. There were no two ways about it: Kevin Phelps was in the fight of his life.

Can you imagine all that? Kevin didn’t have to imagine.  He had to dig in, start battling and hope for a positive outcome. One of our recent Presidents —one who could eloquently discuss subjects other than the female anatomy and his bank account, but I digress — said in one of his best-known speeches that “While the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice”. For Kevin and those close to him, it couldn’t start bending quickly enough.

Kevin has poured all his tenacity, competitiveness and combative spirit into beating his all-time toughest opponent for nearly three months now, and here’s the good part: he’s winning! Yes, he’s had his ups and downs, his good and bad days, but last week he finished his final course of chemo, and his doctors say there’s a great chance he is going to beat this. He posts regular, articulate, sometimes gut-wrenching updates on Facebook, and one of the most recent read: I BEAT CANCER!!!!!!!! Well, except that the font was about ten times bigger, but I’ll cut him some slack. He’s certainly earned it.Bathroom Shelves Bathroom shelves space aluminum glass single - layer bathroom wall racks bathroom bathroom hardware pendant Bathroom racks ( Size 45cm )PLDDY Crafts Face Art Decoration Home Living Room Ceramic Flower Arrangement

This isn’t where I ask you for money or pass along a link to a fund-raising website. Not that I’d be opposed, however awkward it might make a reader feel, if Kevin needed the help. But by happy coincidence his insurance policy has covered almost all his expenses: while the overall cost of his treatment has run upwards of a million dollars, Stephanie and Todd have only had to pay a few thousand out of pocket.  And if the chemotherapy is successful, his doctors say Kevin’s type of cancer generally doesn’t return.

The last thing I want to do is jinx Kevin, for I know better than most how relentless cancer can be. My father had tumors removed from his liver and pancreas and seemed to be cancer-free, but all too soon the disease came back, and now I spend most Father’s Days talking at a marble slab. Yet there’s now good reason to believe Kevin will someday number among the lucky ones for whom cancer represents a detour rather than an endpoint.   By the time he celebrates his 25th birthday, he will be a hardened survivor, his trademark confidence no doubt containing far more substance now that he has stared down the most feared killer of our time. What could he do with his life then? A better question would be “what couldn’t he do”? Me, I just hope Kevin gets many more years to experience life in all its joy and pain — but hopefully in a proportion weighted more towards “joy” than has lately been the case. I hope he falls in love, builds a productive career he can be proud of, perhaps one day becomes the father he never had. More selfishly, I also hope he gets back on the tennis court at some point, but even if he never takes part in another sporting event in his life, Kevin Phelps has proven this beyond the shadow of a doubt:

He’s a winner. MXD Stool Home Stool Change shoes Bench Creative Living Room Simple Stool Sofa Footstool Solid Wood Square Stool Small Bench Green Cushion (color Brown)YQY Chair- Bar Stool Solid Wood + Fabric + Pu Creative Fashion Non-Slip Durable Household Practical Stool

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I called it the Arsenal Curse, and it had been around for some time.  It didn’t refer to the on-field results of the English Premier League’s Arsenal FC, one of my two favorite professional soccer teams and the only one whose games are regularly televised in this country, although most fellow Gunners fans would agree that in recent years the team has been plenty cursed in that domain as well.  No, this was a scheduling phenomenon in which Arsenal’s weekly game times and my weekly USTA and North Shore League match times inevitably overlapped.  It didn’t matter if I was playing tennis on Saturday or on Sunday, in the morning or in the afternoon.  Every week I’d check my Premier League scheduling app with the expectancy of a young child on Christmas morning, only to be left feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy has once again snatched the football away just before he can meet it with his outstretched leg.   I usually played only one competitive match per weekend,  yet somehow Arsenal’s contest and my own nearly always fell in similar time slots, and in my DVR-less existence, that was a big problem.LXLA - Coffee Round Washable Dog Bed Basket with Imitation Animal Long Hair Lining and Suede SidePENGFEI Solid Wood Laptop Stand for Desk Foldable Portable Bed Table College Students Dorm Room Learn Read Solid Wood, 3 Sizes (color 70x39x47CM)

This fall the Arsenal Curse has at last been lifted.  I can tell you with authority that the team’s new East European left-back, Kolasinac, is an absolute beast.  I can tell you with equal certainty that “playmaker” Meszut Ozil is utterly useless and should be sold, or even given away, at the first possible opportunity, his supposed world-class pedigree be damned.  I can tell you- without the slightest shred of bias, mind you- that regardless of whether they are attacking or defending, the Gunners get absolutely screwed on every disputable penalty decision.  And I can tell you a lot of things about Arsenal’s longtime manager, Arsene Wenger, the gentlest of them being that he should enter an overdue retirement posthaste.  I can tell you all these things not because the scheduling issue has suddenly dematerialized, but because I have not hit a tennis ball since Labor Day.

In truth, I have not hit a tennis ball pain-free for much longer than that, so when a full summer of USTA playoffs ended in the disappointing fashion chronicled in my last entry, I decided it was time to take more drastic measures.  And it was the two tennis buddies with whom I’m in most frequent contact, Todd Toler and Andrew Haynes, who persuaded me to take those measures.  I thought- or rather knew, from a summer’s worth of evidence- that even on one healthy foot I could compete as a slightly-above-average 4.0.  But Todd and Andrew, with backgrounds in competitive hockey and competitive running, respectively, finally convinced me that it was wiser to take a more long-term view.  That meant keeping off the tennis court until I was pain-free.  It also meant seeking medical help.TrippNT 50138 White PVC Plastic Bench Top Workstation, 16 Compartments, Medium, 16-Inch Width x 12-Inch Height x 7-Inch DepthCosco 5-Piece Folding Table and Chair Set, Black

Although I like some of them very much as individuals, I’m not a huge fan of doctors collectively, and as a result I try to avoid going to them if at all possible.  In this I’m hoping I take after my grandmother, who didn’t believe in seeking medical help yet managed to live deep into her 80s (she didn’t believe in paying her income taxes, either, but that didn’t turn out quite as well for her).  Yet it’s a habit that undoubtedly pleases my insurance company more than it does my future self, and which I’m therefore doing my best to modify.   So in mid-September I went to a doctor in my primary care physician’s group, and was essentially told that I had plantar fasciitis and needed to see a podiatrist.  You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that outcome, but she knew more than I did about how to provide some temporary relief and it was a step in the right direction.  It would be another month before I could get in to see the podiatrist, Jeff Davis.  I considered it worth the wait, however, for Jeff is both a longtime acquaintance and a 5.0-caliber tennis player, though with the exception of one now-distant Concord A singles title he has always played purely for enjoyment.