Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Lifeby James Blake, Andrew Friedman, Andrew Friedman
James Blake's life was getting better every day. A rising tennis star and People magazine's Sexiest Male Athlete of 2002, he was leading a charmed life and loving every minute of it. But all that ended in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in an on-court freak accident. As he recovered, his father-who had been the inspiration for his tennis career-lost his
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James Blake's life was getting better every day. A rising tennis star and People magazine's Sexiest Male Athlete of 2002, he was leading a charmed life and loving every minute of it. But all that ended in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in an on-court freak accident. As he recovered, his father-who had been the inspiration for his tennis career-lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Blake was dealt a third blow when he contracted zoster, a rare virus that paralyzed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardized career.
In Breaking Back, Blake provides a remarkable account of how he came back from this terrible heartbreak and self-doubt to become one of the top tennis players in the world. A story of strength, passion, courage, and the unbreakable bonds between a father and son, Breaking Back is a celebration of one extraordinary athlete's indomitable spirit and his inspiring ability to find hope in the bleakest of times.
Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprahand The Tonight Show, shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: "You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort." At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Breaking BackHow I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life
By James Blake
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2007 James Blake
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Statement December 2003
Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there. -Will Rogers
For professional tennis players, December is an annual abyss.
The year's competition is done, and everyone on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour scatters around the planet to relax for the only month of our sport's notoriously stingy off-season. Come January, those of us who aren't nursing injuries will flock to Australia, or one of a handful of other destinations, for the first tournaments of the New Year. From there, we will continue to travel and play on and off for the better part of the next eleven months.
Success in professional sports is a funny thing. You might say that pro athletes live with three certainties looming over them: Death, taxes, and retirement. In the back of your mind, you know that no matter how good you are, what you've got is either fleeting or finite-at some point it's going to end, either by choice or because your body will simply give out.
So, much as we welcome our downtime in December, we must also contend with the what-ifs that it brings: What ifI just had the best year I'm capable of? What if this slump I'm in isn't really a slump? What if it's the beginning of the long, slow slide to oblivion? Even the best player in the world faces his own versions of this question: what if this was my last year of being number one? What if that new teenager everyone's buzzing about is even better than I am? What if I get injured next year and it all comes screeching to a halt?
For most players, these are the questions that come up every December, but for me, December 2003 was the first year that I really found myself asking them. In 1999, I left college after my sophomore year to become a professional tennis player, but it took me a few Decembers before I really came to understand the abyss that the month presents. Like many young athletes, I was having too much fun for such weighty introspection. The ATP tour is like a kind of traveling neverland, where no one forces you to grow up. So a lot of the guys are indistinguishable from overgrown adolescents-when not hitting tennis balls, or the gym, we spend our time hanging out, playing poker, watching television, mastering video games, instant messaging each other, perfecting iPod playlists, and planning the occasional practical joke.
Don't get me wrong, staying fit and honing your game are hard work, and if you do them right, they consume several hours a day. In addition, there are the other commitments-interviews, photo shoots, personal appearances, and promoting whatever tournament you find yourself in on any given week. But when you stack it up against most other "jobs," life out on the tour is basically a dream, in more ways than one. It's a dream come true, because most of us grew up idolizing professional athletes and can hardly believe we've become one ourselves, and the higher you climb, the more surreal it gets. People recognize you on the street; designers throw clothes at you on the off chance that a reporter might mention it in print; hordes of children line up outside your practice court to have you autograph tennis balls, rackets, hats, or even body parts when nothing else is available; and you spend a ridiculous amount of time on airplanes, literally living among the clouds.
In some ways, I think that the experience has been stranger for me than it has for most of my peers because I was never supposed to make my living as a jock. If most adolescent athletes have "sports parents," then I had "school parents"-a mother and father who revered education above everything else and treated it as a lifelong pursuit, not just something to occupy you until age twenty-one. On a daily basis, they demonstrated their commitment to learning by using themselves as examples. My mother, Betty, is a voracious reader and occasional writer, while my father, Tom, continued to enhance his communication skills well into his fifties by reading and by taking a vocabularybuilding class.
Early on, my parents had to endure some social hardships as a mixed-race couple. My father was black and my mother white, and it wasn't always easy. One night, early in their courtship, they were dining at a restaurant and my father caught another man staring at them. "I have nice teeth, too," my father said, grinning broadly at the guy. It was a private joke between him and my mom, a reference to the way plantation owners looking to purchase a slave would sometimes ask to see his teeth. The man probably didn't understand, but my mother still laughs, a little sadly, when she recounts the story.
Despite incidents like that, my parents always maintained their belief in the essential decency of people, and they passed this faith on to me and my older brother, Thomas Jr. When I was a junior player, another kid told me he felt sorry for me because of my genealogy, predicting that I'd be hated by blacks and whites. I told my mother about what he said, and she replied that she didn't see why I wouldn't be loved by both communities, an outcome that hadn't even occurred to me before she mentioned it. And fortunately for me, what she predicted is exactly what came to pass.
Optimism of that kind was infectious, and the constant support of my parents helped me to persevere through the awkward and often ignorant comments of some of the people around me. While my interracial heritage may seem to be a tailor-made story of adversity, the adversity never really materialized in many ways because I never allowed it to overtake my worldview. My parents' inclination toward truly loving life and expecting the best from it shaped my entire outlook, helping me to believe in the inherent goodness of other people and keeping me from being sucked down into the darkness that sometimes overshadows the joy of living.
Excerpted from Breaking Back by James Blake Copyright © 2007 by James Blake. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
James Blake has been a professional tennis player since 1999, when he left Harvard to join the professional tennis circuit. He grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, and currently resides in Tampa, Florida.
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I am a huge tennis fan and a huge James Blake fan. This book went beyond the sports or tennis side of is life which I already knew about, I've seen him play several times at the US Open always felt he was the nicest guy out there, signing autographs on the grounds after a tough loss. After this book I like James even more. The book was incredibly inspiring showing the relationship between he and his father. When James broke his neck he talked of how this was a blessing in disguise for him that he got to spend time with his father during his last months of his life. This book truly made me wish to tell my parents how much I love and appreciate them. This is a great book for all not just sports/tennis fans.
This book was great. I am a tennis (mostly Andy Roddick) fan but this book was very well-written, interesting, and inspiring. As an English major I really was impressed with the writing style of this story. It never got boring or too much into detail with the tennis losses or wins, instead focusing on the story. This is a great read and I really felt for Blake, at times trying not to cry. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a tennis fan or who has gone through a personal struggle, or who just wants a great read.
Any tennis fan SHOULD read this book. it is full of inspiration and makes you want to keep going when your on the court! one of my favorite books I have EVER read! I love James Blake!!
Breaking Back written by James Blake, professional tennis player, along with Andrew Friedman autobiography. It tells the life of James and how he overcame the life of professional tennis, an on court freak accident, and the death of his ¿superman¿. James wrote this book to not only entertain other tennis players but also people who don¿t even know tennis. In the back of the book he includes a glossary of all the tennis terms he uses throughout the book. James is telling the story from his point of view, and how he felt during all these hard times. He explains the hardships he has on and off the court. Also explained in this book is his on court freak accident when James was unable to play for the next season. He tells about his difficulties not being able to play with his paralyzed left face and what he had to do to pass the long months. I could really connect with James because I am a tennis player also and I had a family member die from cancer like James¿ ¿superman¿. James tells about how his father was so significant and why he calls him superman. ¿When I was a little kid, and even when I grew up to be a young man, my father was like Superman to me. He wasn¿t a crime fighter, and he didn¿t wear a cape¿he lived a more mild-mannered existence that Clark Kent ever did¿¿ After his fathers long battle with cancer Blake says he always knew when his father was watching over his tennis match. Like in the Us Open semifinals. He says, ¿There was only one person I thought of at times like that. I looked straight up into the sky over the stadium, and spoke right to my father: I love you Dad.¿ One book that I would compare this book to is Pete Sampras¿ book Champion¿s Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis. Both books talk about the rough and tiring life of a professional tennis player. The books title comes from the hard struggle he had with being temporarily paralyzed and losing his father, and then being able to come back after all that and be fifth in the world today. I would recommend this book to anyone. You don¿t have to play tennis to understand this book and it¿s mostly about his inner struggles, which everyone can relate to. Overall I think it¿s a great book. The ending leaves you really understanding what he went through and how he came back. Also it gives you a great deal of compassion for professional tennis players and their hard work. If I had to rate this book out of five stars (1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest) I would give it a 5. This book has made me both laugh and cry. Its one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. -Rachel
Breaking Back written by James Blake, professional tennis player, along with Andrew Friedman was an interesting autobiography. Excitement and sports fill the pages of this book, but you¿ll also find yourself sad for Blake. It was a good book mainly from its suspense and the dramatic life of Blake. From the mid 1990¿s to present day James Blake travels all over the world but mainly he lives and stays in Connecticut. Blake was an aspiring tennis star but his main priority was education. After being offered many opportunities to go pro, he takes this into consideration and eventually becomes a professional tennis player. He is forced to overcome many tragedies to himself and other family members but some he may never be able to recover from. When James Blake was younger he took lessons at a nearby tennis clinic. His future coach, Brian taught him that his only goal should be getting better. Also, Blake learns to work as hard as he can, be the best he can, and not take anything for granted. He learns that even if he may never be the number one player in the world he will still be lucky to be a professional tennis player. James Blake turns out not to be only a great tennis player but also a good author. His use of the first person point of view enhances the realism in this book and his gripping and strong vocabulary (he went to Harvard) brings his past to life and makes you feel as if you¿re reliving it. This is not only a book for sports lovers, but also anyone with a craving for drama and those who just want a good book. This book will teach you dozens of lessons that you can use on the tennis court and in everyday life. This book will keep you interested in every page.