A Racket

How much can a tennis racket mean to someone? If it changes a life for the better it just might be priceless. One meant that much to me and I’ve never told the man who gave it to me just how important it was to me. It was a gift from my Uncle James Poole when I was about 15 years old. I think it’s time I let him know.

It was the summer of 64’ and I was walking back from the only local public tennis courts with a friend. He owned a couple of tennis rackets and loaned me one so I could try my hand at the game. I did well and enjoyed it but I also knew it was doubtful I’d find the money to buy my own. Money was always tight at home and the only jobs I had then were whatever I could scrounge up in the neighborhood. Money seemed to be tight for everyone that summer.

As we left Thompson Park and made the walk up Park Boulevard to my friend’s house, Uncle Jim drove by and recognized me. He slowed down and honked his horn. I don’t remember any conversation – just a wave. I picked my bike up at my buddy’s house and pedaled the 9 miles back home. Now the truth is that I spent most of that ride home trying to figure out where I could get the money for a tennis racket and balls. I remember not feeling very good about my options.

When I finally arrived home I saw Uncle Jim’s car in the drive. We chatted some and he asked me about tennis. I told him I had just started playing. He then said, “I got you something.” And, he handed me a can of tennis balls. I remember feeling good, and at the same time feeling sad, since I didn’t own a racket. I thanked him and told him I didn’t have a racket. He said something like, “Then I guess you’ll need this.” And, with that he reached for a brand new Wilson Jack Kramer tennis racket he had hidden from view. I'm pretty sure I burst into tears. I never guessed something like that could happen.

I never asked how this all came together. Today I can only think he mentioned he saw me coming from the tennis courts and my parents told him I didn’t own any equipment. All I knew is I was one happy 15-year-old-kid.

Now this is where the life-changing part comes into play. I started playing tennis almost every day. I’d arrive at the courts before anyone else and I’d hit balls and practice serving. I’d stay until it was almost too dark to ride my bike home. Within a couple of months I was holding my own with both kids and adults who had been playing for years. It gave me a whole lot of confidence and, most importantly, it taught me if you want to excel and succeed at something you can do it if you work your butt off.

Following that summer I was asked to work as a free lance photographer for two national news organizations and the local daily paper. And, I was just barely 16-years-old. At 17, I was also hired as a full-time reporter going to school half-a-day and writing half.

If it weren’t for the lessons I learned on the tennis court about hard work, competition, practice and not ever giving up – I don’t know if I would have tackled the newspaper and photography jobs at such a young age.

My Uncle’s generosity and kindness changed my life. Here he is on Facebook.

My friend, Seth Godin, spent the first six months of this year changing the lives of a very special group while changing his own in the process.

How about you? Whose life will you change this week?

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