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50 Latitudes (USA) Feature

The 50 Latitudes Feature will showcase Latitudes from a resident of each US state in their own words to illustrate that despite age, sex, location, or occupation, every living being on the planet has a favorite Latitude.  A person's favorite Latitude is not restricted to their home state.

Entries in Colorado (1)

Wednesday
Jun082011

Colorado

Sports and travel have been two important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. Therefore it’s only fitting that my Latitudes are a combination of these two endeavors.

As a kid, I played and watched every sport that I could.  But as the years went by, two sports stood out for me - golf and tennis. While I was ultimately more talented at golf, and I would go on to become part of the Men’s Golf Team at The University of Michigan – the sport I loved playing beyond others was tennis.

There is a uniqueness to tennis...  It’s an extreme physical test in perfect combination with an intense mental challenge. You are playing your game, but you are also playing your opponent whom you can defeat with your tennis skills and through your mental toughness and psychology. When I watch a big match, like a US Open night match on center court, I think it’s still the closest thing we have to the days of the gladiators in the coliseum – two players enter the arena, fight it out to the point of exhaustion, and only one leaves the arena alive to fight on for the rest of the tournament.

I also grew up with a love to travel. Family trips to Florida, Colorado and Northern Michigan stand out as some of the happiest times in my life. I think travel creates your most lasting memories and expands your thinking as you venture beyond the boundaries of your everyday life.

I have had an incredible journey back to the sport of tennis and back to traveling, and that is a big reason they are my Latitudes today.

In 1998, I was involved in a diving accident at the age of 19. My neck was broken and I became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down with limited use of my arms and no movement in my hands and fingers. My life was changed forever in a split second.  It was an incredibly difficult thing to face the prospect of living the rest of your life in a wheelchair at such a young age.

I had to dig into the depths of my soul and summon incredible mental toughness to make peace with what happened to me. And now, almost 13 years later I’m proud to say I live an incredible life. I’m married to an amazing women, we have our first child on the way, I’ve got a great job, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world to extraordinary places together and we have awesome friends to share our life with. I truly consider myself blessed and there is not a single moment I spend looking back to think about what could have been.

In the process of going through my accident and learning to live with my disability, you are first confronted with a sense of what you may have lost. And questions arise such as, “Will I still be able to do the things that I enjoy, like play sports and travel?”

It was in the course of trying to answer that question that I stumbled upon the sport of wheelchair tennis – my first Latitude. The great thing about wheelchair tennis is that the only difference between it and regular tennis is that a wheelchair player gets 2 bounces. Everything else is exactly the same – balls, racquets, court size, ect. I can play against other wheelchair players or against able-bodied players straight-up.  So even with my disability, I can roll out onto a tennis court and escape fully into my favorite sport to play. 

Playing tennis in Colorado is especially great. Many of the courts I play on have views of the majestic Rocky Mountains as a backdrop.  I love the feeling of the warm Colorado sunshine on my body as I play. The smell of new tennis balls and the fresh mountain air invigorate me. I hear the ball bounce and I know by the sound how I should approach it and what type of shot I’ll need to make. I can taste the Gatorade that is fueling me as a competitive match presses on towards the end. And when I’m at the baseline serving to close out a match I’m winning or trying to serve my way back into a match I’m losing, there is no stress, there is no disability, there are no distractions... I’m in the moment with this incredible fun challenge.

I’m that gladiator in my personal coliseum.

My second Latitude is travel. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to travel much after my accident, and even if I could and wasn’t sure what it would be like.  All of that changed in the Summer of 2002 when I met my wife Jennifer. Travel is now a strong Latitude for both of us. Her life long goal is to have traveled to more different counties than her age.  At the time I’m writing this, she’s been to 41 different countries and she’s 31, so she’s winning by 10.

Her love and determination to travel was infectious and just the spark I needed to recapture my passion for it. Together we’ve had the great fortune to go skiing in Argentina, to go on safari in Botswana, to go on cruises through the Caribbean and to scuba dive the reefs of the tiny island of Bonaire. 

There is something incredible about the feeling of anticipation and energy you have as the days leading up to a trip approach. I love the way all stress melts away once you’ve checked your bags at the airport and all that awaits you is your upcoming adventure. Travel is the smells of oceans, mountains and foreign lands.  The tastes of new foods you’ve never tried, or ones found only in the place you are visiting. The sounds of music and conversations unique to an area. Taking in beautiful sights that you may never have the chance to see again and the wonder that comes with seeing something new for the very first time. There is nothing like travel.

When I can’t escape on a trip or onto a tennis court - I can have these experiences in my mind and call upon these feelings, emotions and memories to bring me to a place of happiness and gratitude. These are my Latitudes and I challenge you to find yours.