MY #IMPERFECTLY-PERFECT TENNIS STORY
HOW ATHLETIC AM I?
Growing up in a very small town in southern Estonia, professional or competitive sports wasn't really my thing. I think it was mainly because I hated competitiveness - I realized that it made feel really anxious.
In retrospect, I was (and still am) naturally quite athletic and always felt I was faster than most of the kids - they couldn't really catch me easily. However, everything changed in high school when we were forced to compete in sports classes. I think because I didn’t like losing or feeling worth less than anyone else, I gave up on going all-out and decided that I was not going to put any emphasis or pressure on myself in sports. I actually remember that exact moment when I made that decision. I was still super red-faced, out of breath, and feeling an uncomfortable pain in my throat after the excruciating class running competition - YIKES!
CAR CRASH INTRO TO TENNIS
When I was around 20 years old (for the context, it was 2004), my family got really into tennis, particularly my father and my brother. They would often play on the weekends, and it looked like a really cool sport for me to try. On the other hand, finding a great tennis outfit became a problem (I know, what a problem to have!!!). I was very particular about my sense of style, and tennis fashion at the time was really not my vibe, at least not what was available in stores back then in Estonia - it was a “zoo”, and all I wanted was plain white (pleeeease). Finally, I managed to find the simplest Nike dress, which had two colors - white and mint green, which, in hindsight, was absolutely the worst color on me. I still bought it and felt really ugly wearing it (not at all throwing shade at Nike). I tried tennis a couple of times with a coach - loved the game, but I just felt so unattractive, like I didn't belong to that world, and ultimately the negative feeling around it just told me, “stay away, you're not feeling great!” Side note: I was also going through an eating disorder at that time, so overall felt pretty low. All I wanted was to find a sport or a hobby to feel good physically and mentally afterwards. I felt even worse when I stopped playing because that dress was not cheap, and quite honestly, I felt super guilty and extremely embarrassed about the purchase. Recently, I visited my old apartment and found the dress. I got rid of it. Chapter closed.
This is the chapter where I am going to choke up. My next personal experience with tennis came years later when I was about 26 years old. I had flown back home from Barcelona, where I was living and working at the time, to visit my mom. My mother, who had always been the strongest and most influential person in my life, was terminally ill. She was just 53 years old! My family lived in a beautiful house surrounded by a stunning garden that my parents took great care of, which holds some of my warmest childhood memories. During that visit back home, we wanted to do something together as a family, so we decided to play tennis since my parents knew someone with a court nearby. The way to the tennis court was breathtaking, with huge fields in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, on a chilly yet warm day. When we arrived, my dad, brother, and I started playing tennis together while my mom lay down on a nearby outdoor lounge chair (she wanted to walk all the way to the tennis court while the rest of us came by car) and watched us from a near distance. I have two totally different and contradicting feelings from that day. On one hand, there was a huge sense of love and togetherness. I was happy to be with my family, play tennis together, enjoy the breezy fresh air, and even make jokes while playing. On the other hand, there was immense fear, grief, and pain for my mother who was going through hell. At one point, I had to stop playing because I think my mental state made me physically so ill that I kind of collapsed, and my mom had to give her chair to me. I felt like I was the one who was dying, as my worst fear in life was about to come true. I still look back at that day with so much love and gratitude, and somehow it makes me feel that tennis helped in some small way to bring us together and spend time as a family - perhaps a little escape - while we were going through the most horrendously heartbreaking time of our lives.
Ten years passed, and I was now living in Switzerland with my husband and our two kids. We had planned a beautiful family holiday in picturesque Tuscany and decided to stay at a local villa that had the most amazing (and somewhat wild) tennis court surrounded by breathtaking landscape and nature of the region. One day, my husband and I decided to play tennis together, and we had so much fun! I think I was wearing a mini summer dress, and my husband was basically naked (joking, but not really). We were moving around, laughing, and teasing each other - like on a sexy first date. But something else entirely was happening too - my mind was blown away by the fact that I was feeling completely and utterly present in that moment. It was a new feeling for me, something I don't think I've experienced since childhood. I felt free and happy – just two best friends having a blast. Reflecting back on my life, I have always been a bit checked out from the present and quietly lived in a little parallel universe. However, in that moment on the tennis court, I rediscovered the significance of stillness (I was able to block out all my worries, to-do's, etc.) and being fully present. Since then, I have embraced the feeling and become more mindful in my daily experiences. It’s like I have acquired a new habit, and I am thoroughly enjoying it, but it is a muscle I have to train continuously and purposefully. For me, tennis has remained a beautiful present and escape at the same time while having a blast! I am not a perfect player, but I am learning with my own pace and not taking myself too seriously – that’s the key. This is my version of #imperfectlyperfect tennis - free from competitiveness (if, then only in fun and playful doses), without the unnecessary pressure of looking a certain way (like my dress fiasco), and having fun while fully embracing yourself in all your cheekiness and imperfection.