I got an invite to a memorial for Sam Wiener, who sadly died in March 2020 at the age of 24, in the early days of the pandemic shutdown, and I ditched the other blog post that I was writing to write this.
Sam was known and beloved by hundreds of people who played tennis and took lessons at Northwestern University's indoor and outdoor courts. He went to Evanston High School and then went to college out of state, then came back to Evanston before finishing his bachelor's to teach tennis and help his family. Eventually he went back to college at Loyola to study business while still teaching tennis.
He was a really good guy. His father had had a serious bicycle accident, and Sam was there for his parents and spent time with them while his father recovered. When he told me about his dad's situation, I was really impressed because he'd gotten off the education track to help his dad and to be available when he was pretty much a teenager. He wasn't necessarily an outgoing guy, but he spent a lot of time helping and teaching people, showing incredible patience and understanding.
I hadn't played tennis since I was a child, so it had been well over 30 years since I'd picked up a racquet or even gotten on a court. I was a horrible player and out of shape, starting from pretty much nothing; even when I played as a child, I just hit and had fun, playing on a court at the neighborhood park. I had never been athletic, while Sam had been athletic his entire life, so he was dealing with someone who was way below his level and ability. I even told him why I hadn't pursued sports, offering a bit of TMI, but he was cool about it, and even shared a bit of personal information about himself.
Sam was an understanding person, and gave me great advice that not only helped me on the court, but in life as well: "move on to the next ball." He told me this after I repeatedly got angry at myself for missing a ball, full of regret that I was such a bad player and hadn't been physically active as he had been. But those few words changed my game. Since he told me that, if I missed a ball, I'd tell myself to move on to the next one; forget about the mistake I made and focus on the moment, what's coming up, and do my best.
Then I carried that over into my life. If something bad happens or I am disappointed, I tell myself to move on to the next ball. I don't ignore my feelings or stay angry or annoyed with someone, but once I work through how I feel I move on to the next ball, which is the next experience or next day or next person.
Someone told me (or maybe it was him; I don't remember) that some of the Northwestern varsity tennis players gave him a hard time, sort of "pulling rank" for not being like them. Sam was a great tennis player, so I don't know why they would put him down like that. I have met former pro athletes, one who even has a Super Bowl ring, and they don't have such an attitude. When I talked to one former pro player about the college athletes that I'd heard about, they said once you play pro, you lose that self-righteous attitude. It's probably because the stakes are higher and everyone around them is excellent.
I am very sad that Sam is gone, and like a lot of other people, I wish I could have helped him. I know that he had some issues that he sort of shared, and I could see that his demeanor had changed and he was probably overwhelmed and/or stressed or concerned about things, but I didn't know what the details were. I knew that something must have been up because he looked different, but I didn't ask because I wasn't friends with him, just someone in the tennis-playing sphere. I think about him every day, and I will always remember what he taught me.