"Back to Normal" Mike Digennaro's Story
I was born and grew up in the Bronx, but as a college student and then as an English teacher, I have lived for a brief periods of time in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Arizona, and Manhattan. I finally settled in New Rochelle where I have lived and raised a family for 45 years.
I graduated from Dartmouth in 1962 and eventually earned a Ph.D in English from Fordham in 1978. I taught for 41 years, 34 of them at Mamaroneck High School from where I retired in 2008.
I didn’t start playing tennis until I was 50 years old. Growing up with a very athletic father and lots of cousins who were into team sports, I was more of a reader who enjoyed running, swimming, and skiing. It was my wife who nudged me into playing tennis and so we took lessons together and played doubles with other couples for a number of years. At that time it was just another form of socializing. We did introduce our son to tennis when he was about ten years old and sent him to tennis camps in Florida and New England during the summer. Eventually, he played on his high school team, but today he is more into mountain biking and skiing.
A turning point in my life occurred in 2011 when I was struck down as I was crossing the street in Manhattan by a cyclist who seemed to be training for the Tour de France. Unconscious, I was rushed to the hospital where it was determined that my C-1 and C-2 vertebrae were severed – and that my left cheek bone was broken. Until then, at the age of 71, I had never spent a night in a hospital and never had a serious injury of any kind.
After a two week stay involving three surgeries, I was released and began a two year period of rehabilitation. I was told that my days as a runner and skier were over. When I asked the doctor about tennis, he was slightly more encouraging and didn’t rule it out completely. Because I didn’t want to resign myself to a sedentary life, I took an even greater interest in tennis. Watching all the open tournaments, I became motivated by how many of the players had sustained injuries, undergone surgeries, and yet managed to get back on the court. Yes, they were considerably younger, but the thought simply playing again even at my level got me through much of the long weary months in rehab. I had played and taken lessons at Yonkers before the accident and had fond memories of my sessions with Simon Gale.
As soon as I was given the go ahead, I returned to Yonkers and resumed my lessons. Thanks to Simon’s expert instruction, I was feeling the exhilaration of learning to play the game asan effective form of physical and psychological therapy. To me tennis is the best way to stay fit while still having fun. It is a complete mind-body workout. Even though I had to undergo another surgery on my spine as recent as last November, I was able to get back to my sessions with Simon by February of this year and will continue with Coach Pat Rogers now that Simon has moved on.
Although I may face more lower back and neck problems and even more surgery, I am still looking forward to playing more and more tennis. Ironically, many of my contemporaries with whom I used to play with have given up because of knee and back injuries, but I continue to not only want to play, but actually improve my game. I supposed what I want most is to meet other players who enjoy the game as much as I do and are willing to get out there and play with me. That’s at the top of my bucket list.