The Heart of a Tennis Champion

The big sports headline this week came from London when Andy Murray became the first male Brit in 77 years to win Wimbledon (four women won during the same period). If you watched the match, you had to be awed by the strength and endurance of Murray and Djokovic. It was the hottest tennis match at Wimbeldon in decades.

Tennis - 2013 Wimbledon Championships - Day Thirteen - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club mardy fish2

However, another big story came out of the tennis world this week with not as much fanfare.  Mardy Fish has decided to return to tennis after being diagnosed with a heart condition.  Last February, Mardy felt his heart race during a Davis Cup match. “I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest,” Fish said in an interview with ESPN.  In May, Fish underwent a electrophysiology procedure to fix the problem that was causing his heart to misfire. This is the same procedure that Drew Harrington, a student that attended one of our heart screenings, underwent after discovering his heart condition.

Over the past year, Fish tried on a few occasions to return to tennis. However, he either lost in early rounds or withdrew from those tournaments. Despite his successful procedure – Fish reports that his heart has not raced once since the procedure – it has taken him over a year to feel comfortable enough to compete again.

Fish’s story highlights the challenges that face athletes. The physical challenge is obvious – you need to be strong. However, mental toughness is arguably more important.

Sometimes, overcoming the physical condition is easier than tackling psychological impact because the condition can be addressed by a procedure. In Fish’s case, the procedure completely eliminated his condition. Despite this medical success, there was no quick fix for his mind. Fish sought help over the past year from Dr. Jim Loehr , a performance psychologist who has worked with many other pro athletes, including Jim Courier.

This is not unique to Mardy Fish. We know that students who discover heart conditions at our screenings can face emotional challenges. We take this very seriously.

Think about it. If you struck out four times in a row, or sliced the last six drives, or double-faulted away a game, where would your head be? How confident would be in your ability to compete or win? What if it was your heart kept misfiring? How would you feel then?

We also know that there may be students at our screenings who are referred to specialists after receiving a physical, ECG and Echo, and who are ultimately cleared by the specialist. They too may be a little anxious or on edge during the process even though they have been given a clean bill of health.

We believe that all of these students need support both during and after a diagnosis. That is why we support research being conducted by Irfan M. Asif, MD, Assistant Professor and Sports Medicine Fellowship Director at the University of Tennessee. He is studying the psychological impact that a heart condition diagnosis has on student athletes. We encourage all of our students to learn more and participate. You can contact Dr. Asif here.

Despite the potential emotional effects that a heart diagnosis may bring, we believe strongly that  checking students for heart conditions is imperative.

Arguing against heart screenings to protect your child from possible anxiety is like preventing your child from dating so that he won’t have his heart broken. Also, I know a little bit about anxiety. It came with despair, depression, fear, self-pity, bitterness and hopelessness after Simon died. I promise you that these emotions are more difficult to manage and overcome.

We wish Andy much success as he sits on top of the tennis world, and look forward to watching Mardy climb back up there. We know he has the heart for it!