Monday, June 30, 2008

US Open Ballperson Tryouts

The morning started before dawn even though the US Open Ballperson tryouts didn't begin until 4:00 PM. At 6:45 AM we pulled into the parking lot outside the National Tennis Center to meet some of the veteran ballpersons and a news crew. CW 11 was on site to cover the tryouts bright and early. I had practiced chasing tennis balls around my home courts a bit, but was immediately aware that I hadn't practiced the few skills that I would need that day. For the live tv coverage, the host set us up with a veteran ballgirl (who had been doing this for 16 years) and asked her to give us tips and then had us show her (and all of New York) what we had learned. We raced back and forth across the court picking up loose balls that some other kids were hitting into the net. Our first shot out there on the courts went smoothly enough, but it was obvious that I still had a lot to learn.

To be very honest, being a ballperson is harder than it looks. I know this because before I headed up to New York, I watched a good deal of the French Open and Wimbeldon and thought it looked pretty easy. What I realize now is that it looks easy because the men and women and boys and girls know what they're doing and are good at it. You have to know when to run out and grab the ball, where to go, and who to throw to, all the while moving quickly and efficiently around the court so as not to be noticed. I also didn't know that in the US Open you have to be able to throw the tennis ball at least half the length of the court (about 80 ft) in one bounce with exact precision to a ballperson standing at the far end of the court. That's one thing I will definitely have to work on.

I am still quite thankful for the tips and suggestions offered that morning by some of the best veterans. At 3:00 PM we headed back out to the National Tennis Center for the official tryouts. We stood in a very long registration line for some time and I think that's when it hit me. Me and the other girl with me were the only disabled athletes in line. Although a whole range of people showed up to tryout, from young kids to older professionals, there was definitely no one else like me. I was both excited and nervous about what this meant and having this opportunity to represent disable athletes. I was pretty certain it wouldn't be my leg that would hold me back.

Finally, my turn came to tryout for a US Open ballperson spot. Although I have great endurance from triathlon training, I have not recently done much sprinting at all. I wanted to clear the balls off the court as quickly as possible so I sprinted across the court each time a tennis ball was hit into the net. I was breathing a little hard after a couple times across the court, but just kept doing my best. I was a little nervous about accidentally kicking a ball when trying to pick it up or just flat out missing it, but with the two hand scoop that I'd learned earlier that morning, I am happy to report that I got every ball. My throws to the far end of the court were not quite as spot-on, but I hope they were good enough.

I will find out soon whether or not I will be called back for the second round of tryouts. Regardless though, it was an experience I will never forget and would be an incredible opportunity for all disabled athletes.

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