Roland Behrends inspires me. I bet he would inspire you, too, if you knew him like I do. Roland is a rancher in the Hill Country of Texas. He mends fences and runs cattle and plays tennis. I don’t know anything about fences or ranching, but I admire him for being on the court. A couple weekends ago, I watched him playing hard, toughing it out over five hours to win mixed doubles with his granddaughter on an 84 degree spring day. You might wonder why I picked Roland for inspiration, since there are a lot of people who play long and hard at tennis. Well, for one thing, Roland has a lot of back pain, and another is he has a hard time running. He can run forward, but stopping and running back is difficult. There are other reasons to admire Roland, but one tying them all together is knowing he is in his 80’s. It’s more challenging to play when your back and legs give you grief, and your opponents are often many decades younger. He plays anyway.
When I first started playing tennis a few years ago, Roland was already 80 years old and we played together every Tuesday night for over a year. It was a round robin mixed doubles style of play, so sometimes he was my opponent and sometimes my partner. I’m not a strong player, and back then it was hard for me to place a shot. For a long time I worked on simply returning the ball inside the court. It didn’t matter how hard, how well placed, or skilled the shot – my goal was simply to keep the ball in play. One day when I came home from playing, my husband asked how well I had done. “I’m getting better,” I said, “I got one past Roland.”
Roland has a hard slice serve that hits on the outside edge of the service box nearer the net than the far line. When he lands it and the receiving player flails about and misses the return, he can’t help but smile and chuckle to himself. I admire his serve too, until I lose three points in a game because of it. One thing I quickly learned about some of the older, skilled, but less mobile players is this: don’t hit it anywhere near them. Just because they cannot run quickly, doesn’t mean they can’t move quickly. Snap goes Roland’s wrist and racquet when a ball is anywhere close to him, and the ball is torpedoed back at you – or worse, back at a place on the court where you and your partner are not. He can return a ball coming fast right at his feet, backhand or forehand. How he picks it up off the court at those angles is beyond me. And of course, if the ball in within reach of his racquet, he’s going to return it nearly every time.
I learned to make Roland run, or to put it over his head and behind him, if I wanted the point. Maybe that sounds mean, but it isn’t. Another thing I admire about Roland is he wants to play a challenging game and he wants you to play better and better. As I learned to place the ball more strategically, Roland was right there to encourage and congratulate me. He even smiled and chuckled when he saw me deliberately place a ball out of his reach and win the point.
Roland has no idea how much he inspires me. I probably ought to tell him. Recognizing he won’t know unless I say something reminds me how often we are role models or inspiration for others without ever knowing it. Roland is simply living his life, playing tennis, and befriending other players in our association. He is an inspiration just because of how he lives.
“How you live inspires others.”
I want to be like Roland. I can do without the back pain, but I hope to play all out no matter what my age or how much harder it might be to stay in the game. It isn’t Roland’s age I admire; it’s how he plays the game of tennis and the game of life. As we often say from the sidelines when watching a skillful move, “Great shot, Roland, way to play the game.”