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Rocky Lost

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“What do you mean, Rocky lost? That was one of the great inspirational movies of all time!” you say. “The underdog beat the famous guy. Of course he won!”

Well, actually he didn’t. Was the movie inspiring? Yes. Did Rocky win the fight? No. Not the first time. That is what is great about being able to write your own story as Sylvester Stallone did. He wrote more sequels, and yes, Rocky did go on to win in the rematches.

So let me tell you about my own little “Rocky.” My son Anthony loves tennis. He’s only 12, so it is hard to say if this will be a life long passion, but it’s a great sport and we are happy to support his current interest. His school coach suggested he enroll in a local tournament just to see how he would stack up against serious players his age. He was really excited about the idea, so we went online and signed him up.

The night before the match, he woke up sick. Really sick. Throwing up eight times from 3:00 in the morning until 9:00am kind of sick. Was it the new Mexican restaurant we tried that night? The pound of frozen yogurt he ate after that? The bump on the head he incurred while playing in the backyard with his cousin? A 24 hour bug? Nerves? Who knows – the fact was he was sick and we knew missing that tournament was going to be a major disappointment.

So, we just waited it out as best we could. The match was scheduled for 12:00 noon at a site we had never been to before. I explained to him there was no shame in cancelling, but if he felt like giving it a try, we wouldn’t stand in his way. It was one of those tough calls a parent has to make. If he didn’t play and started feeling better that afternoon, we knew he would regret not playing. But if he was truly ill, making him play two hours of tennis wouldn’t be a wise choice either.

The tournament was nearly half an hour away, so we figured he could even rest a little in the car. We were going to give him every chance possible. When we arrived, just the sight of the big air bubble roof over the courts seemed to perk him up. As we walked in, I told him, “Sometimes it’s just mind over matter, but you do whatever you feel is right.”

The man in charge explained he would be playing a real match, six game sets, best two out of three. Uh oh! Somehow we thought the winner would be the first to win eight games like his school matches. Still, though clearly not 100%, he was undaunted. At 12:15, his court was available and it was time to start.

“Dad, I need to go to the bathroom first!”

I could tell immediately another wave of nausea was overcoming him. It was not a pretty sight. After this final episode, I thought to myself, “OK, that’s it. Time to go home.” They were about to disqualify him anyway because we were running so late.

“No Dad! I actually feel better now! Let’s try it.”

“Are you sure? No one will blame you if you cancel now.”

“No, I want to do it.”

“OK,” I said. “If you only play one game, you’ll be a hero to me.”

Off he went. The other kid was a good player and clearly more experienced, but they went at it for over an hour. I watched Anthony hit a few warm ups, but when he smashed his first return with that beautiful backhand he already has, tears came to my eyes and I fought them the rest of the match.

The score was 6-0, 6-0, but it was one of those games that didn’t look like a blow out. The other kid just had a little more speed and more tournaments under his belt. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t spend the previous night throwing up! Anthony was scheduled to play a consolation match later in the day, but he finally decided he’d had enough and we took him home.

We are blessed with an able bodied young man, so this was not someone overcoming a life long disability like the Special Olympians that inspire us all. Still, I don’t think I will ever witness a more graceful, dignified, understated display of simple determination than I was privileged to watch that day. He is my son, so maybe I’m a little biased, but it was a lesson in guts and integrity I will never forget.

As it turns out, he did have a flu bug as the 103 degree temperature he developed that afternoon would bear out. Still, I knew we had made the right decision and a day later, he was back to normal. We agreed there would be other matches, but this first one was, in fact, special.

What are you fighting? Doubt? Fear? The unknown? Have you lost a few rounds lately? Always remember, you are the one who gets to decide if you are really out of the game.

So when is your rematch?