10,000 Tennis Balls

Posted by martin.parnell |

It’s 3.00am on Thursday, December 5th and I’m playing tennis at a beautiful sports facility in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Across the court is Sherri. She hasn’t played tennis since the age of 6 but she has a dream. In March of next year she wants to go to Club Med and play tennis. We rally back and forth when suddenly there’s a “Thud” and the lights go out. All that Sherri and I can see is a fluorescent yellow orb floating in the air and the rally goes on.

I love tennis. I was 11 when Mum and Dad took over an old sprawling property from my Grand Mother. On the grounds was a tennis court, however, tennis hadn’t been played on it for a number of years. It was over grown and looked like a cow patch. Over a Spring and Summer Dad cut down the brambles, rolled the grass and built a wood fence with netting all around it.

My job was to line the court. I found the dimensions in an old Encyclopedia Britannica and using a huge ball of string staked it out. Next, I painted the string with creosol, killing the grass. Finally, I mixed up a bucket of lime and water carefully brushing it along the burned strip and, voila, a tennis court was born. Many hours of tennis was played with my parents, siblings and friends. But as with all good things, life gets in the way and I hadn’t played for years.

Then two months ago I met Rufus Nel. Rufus is a triathlete, ultra-runner and the Head Professional at the Abony Family Tennis Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. After an hour of chatting an idea was born, 24 hours of Tennis in support of Right To Play. So, on December 4th at 6.00pm I’m ready to step on to the court. My friend, Tom Healy, has lined up an amazing schedule. For the first 45 minutes I play New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant. It’s a hard fought affair and my elbow is sore. Not a good thing with 23 hours to go.

As Wednesday evening turns into night players arrive to take their turns. I have all my supplies at hand; sandwiches, brownies, bananas and coffee. Six hours in and fatigue is taking its toll. My elbow is tender and legs are starting to feel heavy. By the time Sherri arrives I needed another coffee. Sherri is a natural and I’m telling her this when the lights go out. For 10 minutes we continue to rally in the dark, the ghostly ball shaped form travelling backwards and forwards over the net. Slowly the lights come on and after an hour Sherri finishes her practice. As she leaves she says that she’s determined to play tennis at Club Med. Brilliant.

Night turns to day and groups of school children start to pour in from Park Street, George Street, Fredericton High, Chief Harold Sappier, Devon Middle and Montgomery. What a morning and afternoon, balls are flying everywhere and the kids are having a blast. The hours and minutes tick by and finally it’s 5.55pm, only 5 minutes to go. Tom and Rufus join me for the final game and as the clock strikes 6.00pm a huge cheer goes up, 24 hours of Tennis is in the bag.

The tennis marathon was a tremendous success. Over $4,000 had been raised for Right To Play, 350 children had played tennis and I had got to relive some wonderful memories of playing tennis as a kid with Mum and Dad.

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