This is from the thing in Boise the other night
James Blake gives more than he receives
By Trevor Horn
December 05, 2005
There are those professional athletes who take it all for granted. Then there is James Blake.
A 25-year-old top-25 tennis player who has graced the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly magazine, and was named the world’s sexist athlete by People magazine.
But that’s not who the real James Blake is. Blake is a kind, gentle person more concerned with helping others than promoting himself.
He is the definition of a role model.
“I’ve always taken the job as a role model very seriously. For me, I want kids to see a positive way to go about things, and any time you face challenges, you try to overcome them,” Blake said.
That is what the Yonkers, N.Y., native has done. He has overcome adversity larger than one person should encounter. At the age of 13, Blake was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), something that forced him to wear a back brace 18 hours a day.
But that wasn’t it for Blake.
Two years ago while practicing in Rome, he suffered a fractured vertebra. That injury somehow only kept him out of competition for just a few months. Then tragedy struck.
“It only took me two months to get back from the neck injury,” Blake said. “But right after I came back was when my father passed away, and then I was stricken with a virus that was stress related – related to the death of my father. That took about six months longer with shingles, and that was a pretty painful experience to go through that.”
This adversity is what brings Blake closer to his fans.
“I think that helps with kids relating to me because everyone has problems. Everyone has tough family situations or injuries. No one is going to be on top of the world from the time they are born to the time they die. I think it just makes it more realistic that we are human,” Blake said.
He, along with Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Bob and Mike Bryan and Belarusian teenager Viktoria Azarenka were in Boise Saturday as part of Tamarack Resort’s Rock-n-Racquet event at Taco Bell Arena. The event is an annual fundraiser designed to benefit the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation.
Helping out with charity is nothing new to Blake.
“I was a part of my own event that I put on (last week) in Virginia to help benefit cancer research and help out where my father was treated.” He also donates 100 dollars per tour win to the Harlem Junior Tennis Program, the place where he learned to play tennis.
He also gives another 100 dollars per win to Shriners Hospital.
Here is a man who has won at every level. He was the top collegiate player at Harvard University as a sophomore. He has won three career titles as a professional, including the Stockholm Open in October.
But the wins on the tour are not his driving factor; it’s events like Rock-n-Racquet that he loves.
“These things are, in my opinion, more important than the match play in Wimbledon and the US Open and things like that because they are for really unselfish reasons. They are for other people to help create better lives for others.
“The matches you win,” Blake said, “they are to give you the voice to be able to that, to out you in the limelight so you can really use this time wisely to help others.”
But without the call from a friend, Blake would not have come to Boise.
“To be honest, the first reason I am here was when I heard Andre Agassi was involved. If he asked me to do something, I’m going to do it. It’s just what friends do, and I try to be as good a friend to him as he has been to me,” Blake said.
Agassi and Blake also had some unfinished business to do on the court. The two met for the first time since the quarterfinals Saturday at Taco Bell Arena. In a much more laid-back atmosphere, Blake defeated Agassi.
But before those two went at it Saturday night, Blake made the day of an 11-year-old boy from Boise earlier that afternoon. Blake was part of a tennis clinic at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club with some of the other participants. Blake was the first to give a young tennis player in the audience a chance to play with a professional. Starting by himself, then being handicapped by over a half dozen Boise State cheerleaders holding on to his left hand, Blake narrowly beat Matt, the youngster, but not before giving the young man the time of his life.
This is James Blake. This is the man who was helped as a child to recover from scoliosis as a teenager. This is the son, who broke his neck, lost his father and was partially paralyzed, only to return to top form in the tennis world.
“We are not just people ... you see on TV. We are human beings. We go home and we have troubles, as well,” Blake said.
But he is stronger than those troubles that have been brought before him.