Written by: Colleen Jones
***Colleen Jones is a six time Canadian women’s curling champ and two time World Champion. She is a reporter for CBC and has covered six Olympic Games, Grey Cups and Stanley Cups. But her biggest job is being a tennis mom to Luke Saunders from Team Atlantic.***
I’ve spent a lifetime in sports. I’ve played in nail-biting Canadian Curling Finals in front of ten thousand fans; the same at World Curling finals. As a reporter, I’ve been lucky to cover Olympic Games, Grey Cups and Stanley Cups–but I find nothing as nerve wracking as being a tennis mom and watching my son Luke.
I’m writing this from Markham, Ontario and the Canadian Under 18 championships here my son Luke Saunders is playing. When I watch him play, the roller coaster of emotions sweeps over me. Every time he plays I think “Today, I’ll be calm”. Fat chance. I think I feel so nervous because I know how hard he works at the game and I also know we pretty much play in more or less the Siberia of the country when it comes to tennis.
Luke plays on Team Atlantic; and we are from Nova Scotia. The infrastructure for tennis in the Atlantic region is pretty weak. In Halifax, we have only four indoor courts for the entire province. I’m thankful the one indoor club there for him to play on exists; but the bubble leaks when it rains, I’ve seen some of the older ladies play with gloves on because it can be freezing inside; but if you want really cold, try using our outdoor port-a-pottie in January. When we come to play here at Mayfair we always have a laugh about how fancy it is and that it even has indoor plumbing. With only one indoor facility in Nova Scotia you can imagine it’s hard to grow the sport and that’s the hardest thing about being a tennis player from Atlantic Canada- it’s the lack of competition. Prior to coming to Canadians, he was able to get five one set matches in… There’s no such thing as playing a full match. Coming from a curling background and prior to that both Luke and his brother Zach were rep hockey players; I always shake my head at where tennis is at in the East. My curling and hockey background are with two sports where the infrastructure is so strong; and the number of athletes playing is huge. No wonder why Nova Scotia’s Sidney Crosby was able to become the NHL’s best. He had a ton of rinks to play in and lots of ice time; he also had a thousands of other kids to play against. If you are a tennis player in the Atlantic region; it’s all you.
So when I watch Luke play here at the Nationals it’s with a lot of pride. I know he has a passion to play tennis that keeps him motivated. The year he came and trained at ACE it was easy to stay pumped. Every day he was out there with a group of other motivated players and dedicated coaches. When we returned to Halifax to reunite our family and get back to “normal” living, Luke had to find the motivation to stay positive deep within. He has a core group of people who have his back. His regular hitting partner is Travis McDonough and his coach Ted Misztela try to keep him fresh. Our tournament schedule is pretty ragged and that’s an understatement. It would be easy if he had the luxury of training with the guys at the National Training Centre in Montreal–how can you not succeed when you have all the bells and whistles thrown at you…life would be so easy…matter of fact it’s hard to imagine you could lose when it’s all gift wrapped with a bow on top. Try coming to Siberia to train; we’ll see if you really like tennis and if the top seeds could succeed under our rugged conditions. I find it odd how tennis selects so few to throw all the resources at. Hockey and curling, two sports Canadians rule the world in; aim for the masses and allow the cream to naturally rise to the top.
But I digress. Several times a year he returns to his ACE family and gets the feeling of what real training is like again and he comes back rejuvenated. For every win and loss he’s had at Canadians I remind him that the purpose of sport is the challenge of pushing yourself and somehow even in tough losses enjoying the journey and process. Over the years, I’ve watched some kids who lose throw their racquets, scream, and bawl their eyes out. We’ve all seen that. They think it’s the end of the world. I want to tell them, if you want the end of the world, come with us and train in Siberia….then you’ll be thankful for indoor plumbing. In the meantime, Luke will keep playing and I’ll keep nervously watching; visibly aging with every point. How appropriate that he plays a sport where LOVE is in the score.