After being gone in Egypt for a month, it was pretty satisfying to finally step on American soil again. Our flight got us into Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, and thanks to our last minute booking a month prior we had a full 24 hour layover…. I didn’t even think that was possible. Initially we thought our Thanksgiving meal would consist of Big Macs and Happy Meals on the floor of Chicago O’Hare International Airport in whatever terminal we happened to arrive at, but luckily we were saved from that treacherous experience by an old friend.
One of our friends from the Louisville women’s tennis team, Julia Fellerhoff, grew up in Chicago and coincidentally only lives 20 minutes away from O’Hare Airport— talk about a perfect situation. After realizing we would be returning home on Thanksgiving, I got in touch with her to see if it would be possible to stay with her family overnight and share Thanksgiving with them. I’m sure part of her thought about saying no, but ultimately she gave in and offered us a place to stay. It really would be impossible to thank her parents, family, and friends (shoutout to Becky Bodine and Alex Tachovsky, also former players for Louisville Women’s tennis) enough for saving the Thanksgiving holiday for us. What initially looked like a nightmare situation consisting of questionable food and sleeping arrangements that would result in broken backs ended up turning into a reunion of past Cardinals and a memorable holiday. None of us had seen each other for a couple of years, so it was a great time at the house. Not to mention the food. Julia’s mom is a fantastic cook, so Mike and I happily stuffed our faces until we were in a self-induced food coma.
The next day it was finally time to come home to Louisville! 31 days since I had slept in my own bed, seen my family, talked to my friends, played with our puppies… I could go on and on about all the stupid little things I missed while I was gone. There’s no sweeter feeling than walking out and seeing your family members there waiting to welcome you back home. At this point, I was also starting to prepare for the full out attack I would receive from our dogs, Maddie and Bella, when I got to the house. They’re little, but if you haven’t seen them for a while, they’ll jump on you, scratch you, lick you, and chase you around until you love on them.
I had taken the previous 6 days off, so after returning home it was back to work. After a month of tournaments in Egypt, I had a ton of new ideas to improve my game, and now it was time to put in the hours. For the next three weeks I would eat, breathe, and live tennis all day every day, not that I don’t already do that on a regular basis anyway. I was also trying to find the time to catch up with friends, which trust me, after a month of being gone there were a lot of stories to tell.
I’ll try to give you an idea of what a typical day will look like when I am back home training. I usually wake up around 8 to have breakfast. I’ll head to the gym and either lift weights (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) or do a footwork and conditioning session (Tuesdays and Thursdays). Those workouts usually take me an hour and a half. After a quick recovery meal, usually an apple, banana, protein shake, and some almonds, I head to practice at 12:30 down at U of L. When I am back home I usually practice with the team every day. I’ll hit with them and play sets for about two hours, then I head home for a late lunch. I’ll usually end up eating two meals, and then I head to practice again around 6 or 7 for some more specific skill work. During the day I try to play more points, but at night I do a lot of fed ball drilling to groove certain strokes and fix any technical errors. If it isn’t too late, I try to go see some friends, but most of the times I am completely exhausted by this point. I head home for another late dinner and then flop down on the bed for the night. All to wake up again and do it the next day.
A lot of people think I am living a super glamorous and easy life right now. Don’t get me wrong, I count my blessings every morning that I wake up and know I am living out my dream by playing professional tennis. But it is by no means easy. Yes I don’t have a 9 to 5 job or work in an office. But the tennis court is my office. The gym is my office. Everything I do is to make sure I am performing at the highest possible level at all times. I stretch around 75 to 90 minutes a day. I have completely changed my diet in the past few months to help me play better. I only eat certain foods at certain times of the day. Every day I feel like someone has poured cement in my legs when I get to the end of training. I go to bed early so my body can rest and recover and I don’t get injured. Professional tennis, or any pro sport, is a full time job. If you don’t stay disciplined, your opponents are out there outworking you, and it shows up in the results.
Since I knew I had a 3 week training period, I tried to break it up into two portions. The first half was a long and hard 2 week push where I would put in the bulk of the work before a couple of days off. The second half would be a lighter tune up before my last tournament of the year. This past weekend, I took a weekend getaway to Washington D.C. One of my best friends from high school, Matt Browne, lives up there now; since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, I decided to visit. Not only did this weekend give me a chance to rest and enjoy some time with a good friend, but I also was anxious to travel again. After being on the road so much, it is almost weird to be back home for more than a week or two at a time, and my body tells me to get back out there and see somewhere new.
I knew I only had 48 hours to spend up there, so I crammed as much as I could into that short time. After flying in late Friday night, we woke up early Saturday morning and headed to the Capitol building. Another old friend from Kentucky, McKinley Mason, works for Senator McConnell , so she offered to give us a tour of the Capitol. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years, so it was awesome to meet up with her again and also get a behind the scenes look at the Capitol. After working until 2am the night before to make sure the government didn’t shut down, she still woke up early to meet us and take us around. She was a great tour guide, showing us all the best views and giving us some interesting background history.
I had only been to Washington D.C. once before when I was younger. I didn’t remember much so I decided I would make the most out of this trip. My friend Matt and his girlfriend Bee had to head home after our tour of the Capitol and a late brunch, but I wanted to stay down in the city to explore more, which turned out not to be such a good idea. My plan was to walk the monuments, starting at the Washington and heading to the World War 2 Memorial, then the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Everything started off well, but once I got to the World War 2 Memorial my phone randomly died. I know all of the adults reading this are probably thinking what the heck is wrong with kids these days? They can’t go 5 minutes without their phones. First of all, I see you all on your phones just as much as us, so don’t play that card. Secondly, I normally wouldn’t have cared if my phone died, except I was alone in the middle of downtown D.C. and had no idea how I was going to get back home. Being the genius that I am, I forgot to ask Matt and Bee for their address before they left, so it was a bit of a necessity to get my phone charged up. People up there aren’t quite up to date with the whole southern hospitality thing I am used to, but eventually I found a couple that helped me out and gave me directions to a phone store. I ended up having to walk about two more miles, but it was my only option if I wanted to make it home for the night.
Sunday was spent doing much of the same. After heading into the city, we walked around the monuments again and then headed to the National Gallery of Art. What I’m about to say might offend the art officianados reading this, so I apologize. It was recommended to us that we go through the East Wing which housed the modern art collections. It started off well as we were looking over classic Picassos and Van Goghs, but after the first exhibit, I couldn’t take it seriously anymore. I try really hard to have an appreciation for art and the work that goes into it, but when there is canvas painted all white with a black line in it, cakes in a piece of glass, or a cloth cut in the shape of an octagon, and you tell me it qualifies as art, I just don’t see it. Forgive me if I am oversimplifying things, but I swear some of the works in there could have been done in a fourth grade art room with glue sticks, exploding paint balloons, and safety scissors. I still love looking at the different pieces of art, but I don’t see where they come up with the meaning behind it sometimes. Seems a little crazy to me. Maybe my brother Austin can help me out. For those of you who don’t know, he is a creative genius and brilliant artist.
We ended off the night by having dinner with a good family friend, Kenny Hodge (or Little Kenny as we call him), at a local farm to table restaurant. The food there was outstanding and I think my taste buds discovered never before seen (can you say that?) flavors. But for me, the highlight of the night was Kenny’s stories. He’s a lobbyist for a health care firm in D.C. so he’s got some good ones; I haven’t laughed that much in one night for a long time. I’m trying to convince him to write a book about all of his stories, but he keeps claiming some mumbo jumbo about nondisclosure agreements.
All in all, I had a great time in D.C. We ended up walking about 20 miles in two days so I could use a good foot massage, but nothing beats exploring a new city. I actually did a lot in the two days I was there, but it feels like I did nothing because there is so much to do and see. I’ll definitely be going back, but next time I’m going to have to stay longer. And preferably go in the summer when I don’t have to wear a parka and layered mittens to stay warm.
I’m back home in Louisville now with two more days of practice before heading up to Cincinnati. I’m playing a prize money in town there with the winner taking home $5,000 so wish me luck. Wouldn’t be a bad pay day. I know I said this last time, but I’m going to start posting more often. Things have been pretty hectic and stressful since I came back, but I’m starting to settle back into life at home. Check back this weekend for another update!