Sam P. Jalloh
Author, PTR/LTA Touring Coach, Motivational Speaker, Mental & Physical Coach
The incredible story of Sam Jalloh, from growing up and surviving in war-torn Sierra Leone to successful tennis coach in England and worldwide.
Photo below: Sam Jalloh promoting the Liverpool Int'l Tennis Tournament.
(Photo by Colin Lane)
TENNIS SAVED MY LIFE
By Sam P. Jollah (reviewed by Rich Neher)
I'm pretty sure that most of our readers had a somewhat easier upbringing than Sam Jollah. Raise your hand if you grew up in poverty, faced extreme hardships, didn't have shoes, and had to go through the most gruesome childhood tragedies like your best friend being killed by a rebel thug just for fun right next to you.
Sam's mother gave birth to eleven children, 4 of them died at birth or in infancy. Both parents had no education so there were no well-paid, professional jobs available to them. His mom had the backbreaking task of collecting firewood which she carried on her head to the local market. She made little money selling the wood and some vegetables she grew.
His father became an electrician by intuition but he knew he could have earned much more money with an education. So his big goal was to get Sam into a decent school which he could not afford. That was the background for him adopting Sam out to his well-off landlord in exchange for a reduced rent. His landlord enabled Sam to go to school in return for hard labor at the household and strict rules. He still had no shoes and was sleeping on a sheet of cardboard, subjected to "a nightly feast of human blood for the mosquitos" but he went to school and had friends. The downside for him: He was beaten frequently and mercilessly whenever he didn't hold up to his grandmother's high standards.
Sam's friend Alimamy taught him 'Board Bat Tennis.' A court was drawn with charcoal or chalk on a stretch of tarred road and they played with a piece of plywood as a bat and an undefined piece of rubber as a ball that later turned out to be a hairless worn-down tennis ball. Sam was not only a terrific student, eager to learn as much as possible, but he was also a champion runner, a soccer player, and he had a special talent for hitting a tennis ball. When he discovered that Hill Station Tennis Club, the finest club with 3 courts in Sierra Leone, was quite close to his new home, he became more interested in the sport. He played ball boy whenever he could and was given the occasional lesson. He became better at it and dreamed about getting on the Sierra Leone Junior Team.
"I was the best junior goalkeeper in the country. When I told the national coach I wanted to pursue tennis he thought something was wrong with me. He said to me: 'If you’re drunk I’ll wait until you’re sober. No-one in this country ever plays tennis seriously.’ But I love the sport and I never went back to football. I never had any regrets either.”
Sam explains how the war started, from being a British colony to having rebels led by international criminal Charles Taylor invade neighboring countries and eventually Sierra Leone. The merciless slaughter of 50,000 people followed, mostly for fun and for making a statement to the population. The RUF (Revolutionary United Front) terrorized the area from 1991 to 2002.
"One day I went downtown to buy a bottle of palm oil for my mom. On my way back through Brookfields, everybody had to stop at a checkpoint controlled by the RUF. I was among the people waiting to be let through. When I got closer to the barriers, I almost choked. Human body parts, buzzing with flies, were strung over them. Everybody in the line was quiet and sick with fear.
They checked us as we stood. Then we were divided into two groups. My group was allowed to walk through. Within seconds I heard rapid-fire gunshots behind me. I glanced back. The others were falling to the ground, blood splashing - killed in cold blood. You don't ask questions. You walk faster and hope it's not you next. I was still shaking when I got home. Fear burned in my heart. Were we all going to die when this war was over?"
Towards the end of the war, Sam was lucky to get some breaks. He was selected to play for his country in a series of tournaments called the ITF Junior Championships in Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria. Tough matches against a depressive background of not knowing if the family at home was still alive.
I don't want to give too much away. After all these (and more) struggles, Sam ended up in the UK and became PTR and LTA-certified. His story is both riveting and encouraging. It's a story of NEVER GIVE UP! I truly enjoyed reading it and getting inspired.
His final words on the back cover of this great book:
"Never stop trying until you get what you deserve. It will be hard, tough, harsh and painful,
but you have to keep going, no matter what."
Sam Jalloh's book is available on Amazon.
I was born poor, and my parents had no option to find themselves a better life. But they were ambitious to get me one! It was harsh, it was rough and a painful start to my life, but I tried to stay alive and go through the struggle, so I would become a responsible man in the future. I am an African child!