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At the corner of each eye lie little crinkle lines, tip-offs to her mood: they might be laughing, or exhausted, or some days furious and fed up with people. If she’s worried about her own affairs she tries to hide it, but rarely can. She never hides her anger, her glee, or her fierce, well-deserved pride. She never hides her opinions.
Kim Grant began in South Africa, on a farm. It was a four-hour drive to tennis, and she never missed a practice. She fought all the way to Wimbledon, to number 76 in the world. Then she moved to the United States and built a tennis academy from scratch. Before I began training with Kim, my motivation depended strictly on my interest. If I found my class interesting, I worked at it. When an idea intrigued me, I pursued it. But I avoided working for some theoretical “later.”
Kim made me want to change that. I wanted her discipline and motivation. I yearned to know the agony of fighting for something month after month, the drive necessary to dive into something and claw all the way through without ever pausing for breath. I dove into tennis. If Saturday morning Kim wanted me at 7:45, I was there. If Wednesday night she wanted me past 8:00, I texted my parents to have dinner without me. Every day I played tennis I fought to develop Kim’s drive, and after four years I caught hold of it. Paradoxically, this led me to quit tennis. I had always played because I enjoyed exercise and the thrill of competition. I loved the people involved and the work to improve myself. Yet finding the discipline to truly achieve forced me to reconsider my goals: what did I plan to achieve? Kim became a professional athlete, but that wasn’t my aspiration.
So for now, I’m working on my school’s food drive. I’m focusing on my classes; I’m tutoring; I’m drawing a lot. I’m searching for my next pursuit. When I find it, I’ll fight for it – and no matter how long it takes, I’ll get it. The course of my life may not be altered by what I learned of tennis, but the dedication, respect for work, and purpose in action I learned under Kim will resonate always.
Occasionally she still calls to ask if I can help her out, moving furniture into the office or driving kids to other courts. People tell me I’m crazy for doing it, and crazier still not to let her pay me. But I think back to every morning Kim let me hit when there wasn’t a clinic, or freed a court so I could practice serving. I think of everything Kim taught me. I do not grant loyalty freely, but when I grant it, I give it completely. Kim has been my tennis coach, and I am thankful for it; but Kim has also been my mentor, my role model – and I am forever grateful for it.