Tennis as an Inspiration

Reading Sam P. Jalloh's book "How Tennis Saved My Life" was a highlight for us about a year ago. It showed perseverance and becoming a champion of tennis against all odds. Now comes another story across our desk and we are blown away by its inspiring message.


Delaine Mast,

National Director for World TeamTennis, sent us this remarkable story about, and written by, WTT player Gary Willardson. Delaine says, "It truly is amazing!  And a testament to how important it is to have something in life to look forward too.  TENNIS is that something for many of us!"


My World Team Tennis Experience

By Gary Willardson

In 2019, when I was asked by a friend to join their World Team Tennis League, I really didn’t know very much about it, but I saw it as an opportunity to play more tennis with my friends. It didn’t take long to learn the quick pace, and having the teammates on the court made for great camaraderie. Our captain put a strong Left Handed team together, and we rolled through our division and started preparing for national qualifiers.

Then COVID-19 hit, and while many of us struggled to make sense of anything in 2020, my course took that to another level. I started having focus and memory problems while working in the operating room. I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist, who quickly ordered an MRI of my brain. The scan showed I had a rare tumor in the 4th ventricle of my brain that was stuck on the brain stem. There were only 40 surgical cases in the last 20 years with this rare tumor, and half of those cases had 1-year outcomes with a major deficit. Fortunately, I knew the best Neurosurgeon in the state, and he was able to get me scheduled for surgery immediately, which happened to be on July 4th weekend (my favorite holiday).

It was a 5-hour surgery, accessed through my neck and skull, and because of COVID-19, there were no visitors allowed even after major surgery. Luckily the tumor was benign, but recovery was tough, and I had complications with several blood clots in all extremities. After several days in the hospital, I had to come home and heal, and start physical therapy in an environment dictated by covid restrictions. It was distracting, depressing, discouraging, and provided ample reason to give up.

Just about that time, my WTT Captain reached out and said national qualifiers were on and wanted me to be ready. I hadn’t hit a tennis ball in 3 months, had just undergone major brain surgery, and was barely walking again with pain still from the blood clots. I told her I would try and gave a valiant effort, but there was still too much struggle on and off the court. Our team went to national qualifiers without me, I felt really bad I let them down. But they took care of business and won!


Delia, our team Captain, could see my struggles and never gave up on me. She said she wanted me for Nationals, and sent her husband (my doubles partner) down to hit with me a couple of times a week (it was an hour drive each way). Then she made sure I was hitting on the other days with players from my club. I was struggling with balance, endurance, and experiencing major headaches. I knew these problems wouldn’t go away, but I would have to learn to rise above them. If Delia had that much faith in me, “shouldn’t I?”, I thought.

Only 4 months after my surgery, I made it to The GreenBrier in West Virginia for WTT Nationals. In the tournament, I was able to play men’s doubles and mixed doubles. Just to be there was a dream, especially with everything I had to overcome. And at the end of the week…



Yes, Tennis is a game, but at times it’s more than that. July 4th, 2020 I didn’t know if I would be able to walk again or be alive. Four months later, because of Tennis, the support of my amazing wife, and the tennis Friends who wouldn’t give up on me, I was a 2020 WTT National Champion. Who could have believed it!


Tennis Club Business is the only tennis business newsletter that calls out the failed policies and programs of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the 17 USTA Sections, the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).