When I was in my 20s, I believed that I was invincible. In my 30s I began to realize that maybe I’m just a normal human being. I got married to Sandra and we had 2 daughters and started growing up. Now in my 40’s I’ve finally started to see what life is about and I’m certain there will be so much more that I will learn.
I’ve been involved with coaching tennis since I was 16 years old. My mentor Kevin Togliatti taught me everything I know about tennis. I met him when I was 15, the summer between freshmen and sophomore year.
I remember the first time I stepped onto Lockport Fitness Forum outdoor courts. Nervous, I came up to a guy that was feeding balls. He turned around with a hat and those big sporty reflective sunglasses. He smiled and said, “Hey, I’m Kevin” and there was that famous pause and then his lips perched together, almost like the scene from Zoolander. Little did I know that day was the beginning of a wild journey that finds me today teaching tennis at East Bank Club in Chicago.
During the summer program at Lockport, I fell in love with tennis. I met Eric Surges, Kevin’s right hand man and the best high school tennis player in our area. Eric and I became friends and I got to play lots of sets against him. I can still remember that vicious one hander backhand and the Yonnex racket he used. Eric was about 5’5″ but man could he hit the skin out of that ball.
Kevin gave me my first job, cleaning the club so that I could get free court time. Then he taught me how to string rackets, and then at 16 he put me on the court and showed me how to run a tennis class. He took the time to coach me. I still remember the drills that we did to this day. I think about the scissor kick overhead that he showed me, the crossover step on my approach shots, how to get low on the volleys, and the snap pop with a c on the volleys. He had a wicked slice forehand return!!! I still remember his infectious laugh. He loved the game of tennis. And he loved working at Lockport Fitness Forum, now called Challenge Fitness.
During that time, he met a woman, her name was Alexis. I still remember the day he told me about her. He was smitten, I could tell by his laugh, he was stringing a racket. Something was different about her. Kevin was smooth and all the ladies were fond of him. But when he started talking about Alexis, he lit up. He would drive to Chicago and then back in the morning. It wasn’t a shocker when he told me that he was going to get married. They were going to have a wedding in Scotland. He invited me and asked if I would stand in his wedding. Hell Yah! I told him.
I planned the trip so that I could go to London first, stay for a couple of nights and then take the train up to Edinburgh, Scotland were I met all the guests. It was a small group and a happy group. We had rehearsal dinner and after Kevin and Alexis got all of us a ghost tour of Edinburg. The next day we all took a bus to a small village to a castle that they rented for the day. That’s were the wedding was to take place. We got dressed in kilts, I went commando, of course. The ceremony was inside overlooking the grounds. Kevin and Alexis said I do. I stood up and signed the paper affirming their marriage. A feast ensued. Dancing, drinking, laughing and at the right before midnight we all went outside. Alexis had a surprise for Kevin. We stood, looking up into the sky, stars beaming down unto as and the fireworks began to happen. Boom, pow, flash, capped off with a firework finally with a heart. It was magical.
Many years passed and Kevin and I lost touch a little. I went off to a new career in Video production then djing. He moved to Michigan and then Milwaukee area. We would catch up every now and then. And every time we got on the phone we would pick up right were we left off. His son Alec was getting older and was dealing with a lot of health issues, they couldn’t figure it out for a while until they discovered it was some kind of autoimmune disorder. Alec went off gluten and went on a special diet which seemed to help him.
Alexis kept getting higher positions, now a lead counsel for a major company. He kept working at Lockport, driving all the way home to Michigan. I mean who in the world would drive 2.5 hours home from work. Kevin would! That’s the kind of guy he was. Loyal to the end, he loved his job and his students meant the world to him. I got married and had 2 daughters of my own. I tried to be a world traveling DJ. It was a blast but it didn’t line up with my family. Plus it sucked me into the nightlife surrounded by drugs and alcohol. I developed some addiction issues.
Which was another reason I needed to come back to tennis. Somehow my body and the universe steered me to a path of health and family. It wasn’t easy. I met a new friend Greg at Magalie’s wedding. He led me to AA and became my sponsor. I developed a new relationship with drugs and alcohol. And although I am now on a new path I still talk to Greg every week. I am no longer in need of escaping. I know it’s inside of me so I walk cautiously and have a plan in place.
During that time, Kevin and I started talking on the phone again. He was still at Challenge Fitness, now driving all the way from Milwaukee. We talked about how Alexis and him go on vacations, and how his son is growing into a man. We talked about our plans and about the racket company I became involved with, Zus Tennis. He was excited for me. We were planning on having a demo day but we could never find the right time. We were talking weekly now and reminiscing on the time we took the women’s 3.5 team to nationals, the time Alexis and him took me out for sushi the first time, and the time we went out together and I met this lawyer. It was great to hear his laugh, he could laugh at anything and it made me feel good inside. I loved talking to Kevin.
Then one week I called and didn’t get an answer. I called again and again and no answer. This was weird. After about two months, I get a call from him. He’s been really busy. He’s been doing chemotherapy. What?!!! Hold on… Yes, he has cancer. A rare form of cancer that leaves deposits in his heart. He found out about it when one day he got up at night to use the bathroom and he fainted. He told me how he went to doctors but they misdiagnosed him for a while until they found it. He was positive like always. Like a champ. He’s going to beat this, and his blood count was looking better, and it just needed to be low enough so he could get on this special treatment. He was still going to Lockport but his legs were really puffy and he had to be careful when he stood up.
I’m like “we need to see each other”. Somehow it wasn’t the right time. For the next month I kept calling and talking to him on the phone. Finally, I get him to commit. He’s going to be in Chicago on Thursday. We make plans. Yes!!! We actually hadn’t seen each other in years. I am so looking forward to this. I just want to give him a hug and share the space with him again. Then one day, I’m making lunch for my daughters. It’s a regular Sunday. Only a few more days until Thursday lunch with Kevin. And then… I get a phone call from a mutual friend Tim, who also played for Kevin and worked for him. Tim asks how am I doing. I say good, just making lunch. We hadn’t talked in a while so I figured it was a catch up call. And then….
Tim tells me that he is sorry to tell me this but Kevin passed away in his sleep. Damn it!!!! I was going to see him. We were going to hang like the good old times. Never again…. I cry. And I cry. I can’t believe he is gone.
I go see Alexis and Alec. I see Kevin’s mom, she is in shock. We are devastated. I can’t even imagine what Alexis and Alec are going through. Alexis tells me his last day and how it was magical. He got great news about his numbers from the chemo and he wanted to go out to dinner. They went to the German beer haus where he had his favorite dinner, the basketball finals were on the big screen so he loved that. And then Alexis’s phone started to suddenly send her all these memory montages. They walked through them all, their travels and special moments. She will always be grateful for that time of reflection of their life together. Alec tells me how his dad had plans to teach him tennis that summer.
I’m heartbroken. I think about him daily. I’m grateful for the time we had. I’m angry that I didn’t get to see him on Thursday. I have a voicemail from him that I saved. He said, “Hey Greg, I hope you’re keeping the faith.” He was my friend, he was my mentor, he was my brother. It’s been over a year now.
But I digress, why 100mph at 100 years young…
Because I want to honor my friends memory, Kevin who taught me how to play tennis. Because I’ve had some weird health issues with my stomach and sinuses. Because my Grandma passed away, because my friend Rick who helped me with renovating my house died tragically when he was hit by a car on his bike. Because I’ve been dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. And because I’ve realized that life is precious and the people in our lives is what life is about. Because I have a new group of tennis students, Magdalena, Melissa, and Maxwell I’m coaching that have brought back the love of tennis for me. Because I’m 44 years old and I’m tired of treating my body like garbage. Because I’ve gotten into biohacking and got inspired by Dave Aspery who wants to live til he is 180. Because serving 100mph at 100 years old is a big and audacious goal that inspires me. Because I hope that you the reader can take the things that I learn and become a better tennis player and have longer happier life. Because I have two intelligent and beautiful daughters Fiona and Charlotte that I want to see grow up.
This is the plan…
Research longevity and become a biohacker so that at 100 years young I’m still strong enough to hit a 100mph serve. I can do it now, how do I do it when I’m a 100 years old.
Get focused on health and what I’m putting into my body and what my environment is doing to me and what I can do to maximize my health.
To make sure that financially, I can support my love of tennis until I’m a 100 years old. Lets face it, tennis is expensive.
To share the things I discover so to inspire more tennis players to want to play until they are at least a 100 years old.
I’m a believer in growing a community together and that it’s about progress over perfection. In the beginning some of the things I put out and how my website may look a little rough. Feel free to give me feedback so that we can grow together.
I wish you all the best, and see you on the tennis court!
P.S. If you’re interested in this journey, I’m leaving a little box below were you can put your email in, this is for convenience. I’ll send you emails whenever it’s the right time. If it’s not your cup of tea, feel free to return to the website on your own. its up to you…