You had to be about 12 or so the first time you and I played tennis together. We went out on to the courts at the beach club where we were members for nine years. You must have had on a bathing suit and sneakers, maybe without socks. The tennis racquet looked so large in your hand. We each took our side of the net and began to hit the ball back and forth.
Right away I could see you could be a good player. You ran after every shot hit to you, and tried to return everything, too. You had a strong, smooth stroke, better on the forehand than the backhand. I was excited to be playing tennis with you, and to see how you took to it right away.
I love tennis, first played as a teenager, at maybe 18, but never gave it much time, too preoccupied with basketball, only to come back to the sport years later. And now I was out there on a warm summer day at the beach playing tennis with my daughter.
We played once in a while at the beach club, and then a few times a year at Cunningham Park, and you got better and better. You seemed to learn something new every time we played. You would get in front of the ball faster or bring your racquet back earlier or swing harder to smack a shot back at me.
That was no small skill right there, educating yourself as we played. It showed concern for craft, for performance.
But there was something else that impressed me the most, more than your natural abilities – your quick feet, your smart hands, your grace and your mobility – and even more than the close attention you paid to playing.
Your sharp, unwavering focus.
It was the effort you always made. You always tried your best. I never had to try to encourage you or motivate you, never had to call out and say, “Come on, Caroline.” Oh, no. It came naturally to you, instinctively, to push yourself hard, to try to discover what you could accomplish.
That always made me so proud. Trying hard at anything was a reward I discovered late in life myself, probably in my 20s or so, and even then still none too well. I was just one of those kids who would do my homework or play softball and if I got tired and it felt too hard, I would quit.
Just enough was good enough.
It was only much later that I realized there was never all that much need, when tired, to quit. You could keep going. And if you kept going, if you broke through that barrier of fatigue, you could find new strength, what athletes have called the second wind.
So to see you giving your best every minute at tennis brought me a double pleasure. Unlike me at that age, you had no quit in you. And I’m guessing now, seeing your dedication to everything you do, especially your singing, that you’ll never have any quit in you.
P.S. — Question of the Day: What do you tell your kids about trying hard?