Spring is here and summer is soon to arrive. Time to enjoy the season, and to get outside, if possible. One of the most rewarding projects for a Multiple Sclerosis(M.S.) patient, as well as for the public at large, is to enhance the mind/body experience by expanding skills and abilities. Tennis is a wonderful example, and whether you are a spectator or participant, accomplished player, or are simply gazing at shiny new racquets on special at the local sporting goods store, there is something here for everyone! Some people have very limited mobility, others virtually none. That is the problem with general statements, as most people are not generals, but rather are individuals.
I am a middle-aged man, who has carried the M.S. diagnosis for 20 years, but with aggressive therapy and treatment from a gifted and caring Neurologist, and some unconventional approaches, I have been able to continue in this sport. Back in 1992, the conventional wisdom was that M.S. patients should not attempt such things out of fear that this would trigger an exacerbation. However, the diagnosis followed several championships and competitive events by only months, and even an appearance in a World Team Tennis recreational league event, in which my doubles partner and I pulled off a come from behind victory, even though it was the first time I had done so with double vision. It was impossible to walk away, even though my Neurologist strongly advised I do so. This year, in addition to regular play, I intend to make an appearance again at the “Serve It Up for M.S.” Pro-Am tournament in Palos Verdes, CA, in association with the National M.S. Society.
So, before you step onto a court, please be sure to get a good physical, and be sure to consult with a Neurologist, if possible, for advice and support on how best to take part. It is a long way from 1992, and the consensus now is that exercise and physical activity are beneficial. Be sure to gauge your relative fitness, and if braces for those joints, or a specific type of shoe will help, get them.
Also remember, you are heat sensitive. Those exposed nerves are quite challenged to conduct the electrical impulses needed to move, so no five set matches at high noon in August for you! But, we know it is possible, as well as necessary, to keep your core body temperature cool. So, part of your regimen includes a lot of fluid, and maybe even a small ice chest. Wear absorbent, light, reflective clothing, and a hat. Don’t forget that sunscreen! I favor at least a 30 level UV protection, and find the product that remains on during physical activity, so as not to burn. Also, early morning, or evening games under the lights are your chance to shine!
If it has been some time or you have never played, it is also a good idea to contact your local Parks and Recreation Department for information on low-cost or no-cost tennis instruction. This is a good way to learn good form and habits, and to develop your game under a little supervision. This is not to criticize working with good friends who can help you to develop that game also. Staying active or getting active is a good way to fight back against M.S.–this exercise can improve your general fitness, help maintain your reflexes, mobility and balance. All levels of competition are available, and it is possible to contact the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for instruction and leagues in your community.
If you really are a little uncertain about playing, tennis players love to have an audience. This does not mean you have to pay for U.S. Open tickets. World Team Tennis is only a few weeks away, and this fast paced and exciting format is great to watch. Local USTA leagues usually do not charge, and take a picnic lunch and make an event of it. Sometime just watching the local heroes in the park is a nice time. Even more than the sport, the camaraderie that awaits is great!