TLC and Carjacking

Posted on November 8th, 2019 by

Picture taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27104981@N06/4102944249

A year ago today, I was carjacked.

I made mistakes and miscalculations. I was on my way to play tennis at 6:30 AM on a Sunday. My first mistake was giving a ride to two 20-year-olds who appeared in our driveway on that rainy November morning with the temperature hovering around 35 degrees.  I felt for them. They were wet.  They were cold.  They asked first for a ride home because they were lost in our neighborhood.  But something didn’t feel right.  When I said I was going a different direction, they asked me to give them a ride to their “grandma’s house” which was in my direction.  There is in this story, of course, no grandma.  I agreed to do so.

After many twists and turns on this ride, and warning bells ignored or too late to heed, fast forward to the end, where the two asked me to stop the car to call their “grandma” so she could open the door for them.  I pulled over to the curb.  At which point the one in the front seat turned to me and said, “We need your car.”  Everything from that point on went into survival mode.

I immediately stepped out of the car, but then reached back in to grab my cell phone (yes, my “survival mode” could use some refining).  They grabbed me and demanded my keys.  Instead, I broke free and took off running.  With my keys and phone. And they chased me.  All I could think of was, “They think they are chasing this old guy with a gray beard.” Then I thought, “Hmmm, they’re right.”  Then, “But they have no idea they are never going to catch me because I am in my tennis clothes” (the mind thinks very strange things when you are running for your life).  And then I thought, “Unless they have a gun…”.  I began dodging and ducking, just in case. (Yes, I really did).  Turns out, they did not have a gun.  They had a weapon, I found out later (because they dropped it in their chase after me), but not a gun.

A weapon similar to what the carjackers had possession of.

I outran them for three blocks, which goes to show you what adrenaline can do, got to the first street with traffic and flagged down a car, desperately begging for help.  They were, by then, a half block behind (Take that, young, out of shape people!), but when they saw this new development, they peeled off and stopped the chase.

But the saga didn’t end there.

Let’s just say my faith in the system was shaken by the response of the police.  My experience with them, as I was still shaking and in shock, was worse than with the carjackers.  (When I called a buddy of mine the next day who has worked undercover for 25 years in St. Paul and told him how I was treated, he asked where I was carjacked.  I told him. His response was, “Next time you get carjacked, do it in St. Paul.”  I asked what that meant.  He said, “Figure it out.”).

All of this has left me one year later still pondering.

About how TLC helped save my life.

How?  Well, in the actual moment itself, it helped because I am in good physical shape.  But it is much more than that.

This carjacking happened to be the last of a long string of events (about one per month for eight months) that left me shaken, confused about people I thought I could trust and found out I couldn’t, and saddened by brokenness I had not anticipated.  I was sinking.  I had lost my faith in people I thought I knew.  And then this.

One of the TLC Adult/Family Campers/friends that helped me process the traumatic events.

A TLC adult camper, who has become a good friend over the years, met with me for lunch, not knowing about any of this.  I spilled it all.  He saw my despair as I replayed the past eight months and said flat out, “You need therapy. For the carjacking PTSD alone.  But with the other stuff piled on, you cannot do this alone.   And if you don’t get it, it will grow.”  He was right. He gave me a name.  I called her.

Then I called my doctor, who is also a good friend, who I met – guess where? – at TLC when he was an adult and family camper.  He listened and helped adjust my anxiety medication (which I have written about in previous blogs).

Between them and other TLC friends (and, of course, Leandra), I had a safety net I would not have had otherwise.

I went to the therapist all winter/spring.  And I came out the other end with a different sense of who I am, of the boundaries I need, of the resilience I have.  And I am in a new place in my life at 60.

This is not the first time I have ridden the roller coaster.  And it will not be the last.  What will get us through?  Well, tennis.  Seriously.  But mostly “& Life”.

There is a reason we are called Tennis & Life Camps, not “Tennis Camps”.  Without the “& Life”, I may not be here today.  Accepting what I cannot change (the choices others in my life make, the carjacking, the need for help).  Changing what I can (defining boundaries, considering what it means to serve, choosing to ask for help).  It is what we talk about all the time at TLC, on and off the court.

I am not alone.  All of us struggle.  Life is that way.  Tennis is that way.  But we are not defined by losses.  We are defined by the choices we make when faced with losses.

TLC campers demonstrating the Three Crowns.

Just this fall I have received emails and letters from TLCers who have lost loved ones, who have lost state championships they were supposed to win, who have lost desire to go on.  And every one of them has said TLC helped them get through, by realizing they can choose their response to negative events and hurtful people (positive attitude); they can choose to get help (full effort); and they can choose to treat others the way they want to be treated – sometimes that means clear boundaries for oneself – (good sportsmanship).

TLC is more than a camp or a job to me.  It is a way of life that has helped me get back on the road to life.  Thanks to all of you who also walk this same road, and pick each other up on the way, so none of us has to go alone, or get left behind.

May it always be so.

How Can I Contribute?

 


4 Comments

  1. Jennifer Kirby says:

    Your post gave me goosebumps. Thank you for writing it. I’m so very sorry that you went through this. It’s amazing how the most painful and challenging times can (with the right help, attitude and effort) lead to the most growth.

    I also liked reading that your tennis fitness helped you outrun the carjackers! As I get older, I’m amazed at how regular (and fun) exercise can make such a difference.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Greg Emerson says:

    Your stories always help us and inspire us. Keep them coming! We never know what others are going through or have gone through. Thank you Neal!

  3. Sara Green says:

    Neal,
    I’m so, so sorry you experienced this horrible, awful, traumatic event. Nobody deserves to be treated that way. But I truly admire how you kept your wits together during the carjacking– and then later, making the decision to seek help. I am grateful to you for sharing your experience in such detail. This blog couldn’t have been easy to write. But I have a hunch you are going to reach your readers in positive ways too numerous to count. (And you also reaffirm my belief that tennis clothes do indeed boost one’s athletic ability!)

  4. Joyce Hagberg says:

    And now I know … ‘the rest of the story’ …
    You are amazing, Neal, and a tool being used by your Higher Power …
    For that, I am thankful you’ve been watched over, and able, with humor, to share so others might benefit.
    Thanks TLC and Steve Wilkinson for the
    3 Crowns
    Love … mom

Leave a Reply