TLC Blog – Tennis and Light (Part 2)

Posted on December 21st, 2018 by

Photo Credit: Carrie Bather

On this Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, we all look for the winter days to quit being so long and light to come back.

Sometimes all we get is a sliver. But a sliver of light is still light.

One of TLC’s cherished adult campers, who still plays six days a week, arranging work around his tennis (the man has his priorities straight), recently suffered a debilitating stroke. He is left-handed. The stroke has paralyzed his whole left side.

When I visited him in the rehab center, there was no getting around the fact that this will change his life forever. He didn’t try to get around it. But he is committed to getting through whatever needs to be gotten through to get back to as normal a life as possible. He is fierce in his determination at rehab, even as he grapples with long term questions of what this means for his life as a whole.

At TLC, we talk about the Three Crowns℠ all the time. The things you can control. He cannot control whether he had a stroke. But his attitude is “What can I do next?”. He cannot control that rehab is grueling, tiring, and sometimes discouraging. But his effort was apparent the day I first visited only a week after his stroke. He had already done physical therapy 13 times that day. He cannot control that this is – there is no other word for it – depressing and the challenge of a lifetime. But he welcomed me and asked how I was doing, how TLC was doing, how my writing was going. He reached out beyond himself in good sportsmanship (treating others the way you would like to be treated) in a way I’m not sure I would be capable of, given the circumstances. He was kind even in his grief and pain.

He is incredibly smart. He knows the challenges and odds.

But the one time he broke into a spontaneous smile was when he said, “I played tennis today.” I thought – as has been the case with other family or friends who have suffered strokes – that he was confused.

I asked where he played. He said at PT. I said “You played tennis at PT?”, never having heard of such a thing before. He assured me he had. He seemed more lucid than I am on my best days, but I was still confused.
“In the gym downstairs. They threw tennis balls to me and I hit them.”
I said, “I thought you were left handed.”
He said, “I am.”
“But you said you hit tennis balls and your left side is paralyzed.”
He was patient with me, as one would need to be with a little child. “I used my right hand.” “Oh! How did it go?”

“Balls went all over the place.” Then he smiled again. “But my slice was pretty good.”

I asked him if tennis is a regular regiment in PT, and he said no. But another of our TLC adult campers, serendipitously, is a physical therapist at the rehab unit he is in. And he thinks that, though that physical therapist camper is not his therapist, he told the others what he needed.

So now he is going to play tennis every day.

This is not meant to be a “feel good” story. He does not “feel good”. He is working to recreate a life that was snatched from him in an instant. The road is long, the outcome is uncertain, just as it is for all of us.

I asked him what I should share with the tennis community who know him when I see them. He thought a while, looked pensive, then said “Enjoy every minute.”

I left his room not long after.

As I got into the hall, he called me back. “Is the first adult camp this summer full?” I said not yet, but it’s filling fast. He said, “That’s my goal.”

I said, “I’ll save a spot, left handed or right handed, it’s yours.”

The longest night of the year.

He is going through it.

And yet, he is turning towards the light, even as he works his way through great darkness.

When given a choice, as far as humanly possible, even if it’s just a sliver, choose light. The choice will send light waves through a sometimes very dark world, and someone else’s path will be illuminated with new hope. Mine was.

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  1. Karen Mann says:

    Thanks for a much-needed ray of light!
    Have a blessed holiday season!

  2. BARBARA LEWIS says:

    Please tell your friend I definitely want to be in his group at camp. He’s amazing. I need more positive people in my life. I’ve learned after 12 or so years at camp that it’s not about the tennis, but the people I meet who bring such joy to my life including the campers, coaches and staff.

    Happy, healthy, safe and fun holidays to you, Leandra and Madeline.

    Hugs, Barb

  3. Jim and Susan Peterson says:

    A great piece to read as we sit in the Infusion Center at the hospital. Jim’s cancer was diagnosed 7 months ago, and many of our days have been shrouded in darkness. But there are those “ slivers of light” that continue to call us out of our present darkness and back into living the life we have! Advent is the season for hope and light. That is where we choose to live.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      You both have been lights in my life and inspiration to me in the encounters we had over the years. Thank you.

  4. John Wilkinson says:


    I played tennis today, and was moving well. There was my usual disgust with unforced errors, and the desire to play better. Reading your story of a sliver of light reminds me that full effort is not about being better. To keep on keeping on through short days and long nights, and sharing the love of a game is illumination enough.

    Best wishes for a merry Christmas for you, Leandra, and Madeline.


  5. Shery says:

    Neal, your encouragement to others and ability to share their stories always amazes me. Thank you!

    To the gentleman going through rehab, go get ‘em, you got this! 👑👑👑

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I always check to see if someone is ok with me writing about them, and was glad he was willing to allow his story to be shared.

  6. Mark Rekow says:


    Powerful story! The human spirit is amazing and how perfect to relay the experience on the day we are farthest from the sun.

    Your ministry continues. The very best to you and your family this holiday season!