Children: Ella, 13; Kellan, 8
Tell us your story about tennis and what makes it a special part of your life.
Ella was a vibrant, curious and precocious 6-year-old. She was in the gifted classes in her public school system and was thriving. Suddenly she became very different. She was emotional, short-tempered and complained of various ailments, all of which prompted us to have a doctor examine her to see if there was anything serious going on. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and sent to Geisinger children's hospital for further treatment. The entire family’s lives changed in that instant, going from a happy, carefree lifestyle to one that was filled with stress and had an unknown future. But, thankfully, after some adjustments in her lifestyle, she has adapted, as most young children do, and mom and dad are very grateful.
As parents of a child with any chronic illness, nothing is ever quite the same. There were some rough times – a seizure and almost losing her in her sleep due to low blood sugar was the lowest point. But with all the negatives that come with diabetes, everyone has come out the other side, and we have learned to deal with what life has given her. She continues to excel in school and is one of the top students in her class. Her friends are supportive of her needs and help her without a second thought.
Now that she is 11, she manages most of her medical needs herself. She wears a continuous glucose monitor that displays her blood sugar, and she gives herself insulin (or sugar) whenever she needs it (she isn't on a pump). Because of the diagnosis, she has been forced to grow up faster than most kids her age. She has become aware of her needs as a whole, not just relating to diabetes but also her physical, mental and emotional needs. She understands the importance of having a healthy lifestyle and incorporates exercise and healthy eating into her daily routine.
Her interest in tennis began innocently enough. In 2008, at the age of 8, she asked if she could play tennis, since she was not particularly fond of team sports. A classmate’s mother mentioned a local high school tennis coach that gives private lessons. Ella had her first lesson and fell in love with the sport. She has been taking lessons with Coach Jim Zimmerman for 2 1/2 years now and has developed not only tennis skills but life skills. With Coach Jim's help, she has developed in so many ways, but most importantly, tennis has given Ella a tremendous amount of confidence – something that was diminished when she was diagnosed. Today, she displays confidence in all aspects of her life. She would not be the same person today if it was not for tennis and the life skills it has taught her.
A year ago, Coach Jim mentioned the Ace for a Cure tennis tournament and asked if Ella would like to play and be his partner and team up to raise money for diabetes, as well as play tennis at a beautiful club. She was so proud to be his partner, and she thought that was enough to make it a great event. But when she got there and saw that so many people cared about diabetes, both awareness and finding a cure, she was moved. She had no idea that there was a group of people working on her side, working to make her life better. On the drive home that day, she told me, “This was the best day of my life, besides my birthday. I didn’t know so many people cared about diabetes.” She was truly changed forever. Ella is again playing this year’s Ace for a Cure with her coach.
Why do you think it’s important for your daughter to play tennis? Do you play tennis yourself?
I personally do not play tennis much, but it has been such an important aspect of Ella’s life. It has given her confidence, independence, strength and a sense of identity. In a sport where you are out there all alone, you learn quickly that you have to be your own support system. That has certainly carried over in all aspects of her life, and she wouldn’t be who she is today without tennis.
What are some of Ella’s notable tennis accomplishments?
Ella has been playing tournaments since she was 9 years old. She won several tournaments of all levels, including one recent SR-L6. She was ranked as high as 43 in the Middle States Girls’ 12s in 2017. She is looking forward to competing in the Girls’ 14s this spring and summer. In November, Ella won three Eastern Singles tournaments in a row and was named EPD player of the month for November. Also, last year, she was named a local TV station’s “Girl Power Athlete of the Week” for her strength on and off the court.
What is your most memorable tennis moment?
There have been so many memorable moments. Some of them involve practices and tournament play. Winning and losing can provide many memorable moments, but most of them just involve Ella pushing herself. One in particular that stands out is when she lost a very close match. She had to collect herself, refocus and get back on court again. She regained her composure and won the consolation match without bringing that negativity on the court. It was a proud moment as a mom to see her be able to do that at such a young age.
Are there any activities you participate in your community that are special to you?
Ella and I both take part in charity events for Type 1 diabetes. This includes Ella playing a doubles tournament (Ace for a Cure) at the Wilmington Country Club with her coach. Last year, they won the tournament and raised quite a bit for the charity. Ella has become an ambassador for the tournament, and it has grown to be one of the highlights of each year.
What has tennis taught you about yourself? Your child?
Tennis has certainly taught both my daughter and me that hard work and determination are a key part in success, both on and off the court. As an individual sport with such longevity, you can see that you get out what you put in. This obviously is true in all aspects of life, so it is such a good foundation for Ella to build on.