A couple of days ago I came across an article published this summer in the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper. It was in a segment referred to as “Glory Days,” a space devoted to “celebrating key moments, personalities and teams in Cincinnati’s rich prep sports history.”
This particular article was about a woman named Andrea Farley, and was of particular interest to me because she is a law school classmate and friend.
Andrea was a tennis phenomenon at Indian Hills High School (1984-88) and is still the only person—male or female—to have won the Ohio High School singles championship all four years of high school eligibility. She made it to the third round of the Australian Open and the second round of the French before beginning her college career. If you had spent time in Ohio during those years and followed tennis at all, you knew of her accomplishments and reputation. I certainly did.
After graduating from Indian Hills she moved on to the University of Florida where she was a three-time All-American, a member of an NCAA championship team, and—oh, by the way—graduated with Phi Beta Kappa academic honors. She pursued a professional tennis career for a while, but the training and the travel and the mind-numbing grind took its toll. She was still an excellent player in tremendous physical condition, but she was just one more talent now in a universe inhabited with similarly excellent players, and she had been whacking forehands and backhands and overheads and volleys for umpteen hours a day for nearly two decades straight. It had become, in her words, “a job,” rather than fun. Monotonous rather than glamorous. Enervating rather than exciting. So, much to the surprise of many—including some in her family—she decided to pursue another path.
At about the same time, I also decided to take a different tack. I had been a mental health therapist at Anthony Wayne School, but decided in the winter of 1993 to finally scratch an itch that had been lingering a while. I applied to a range of law schools across the Midwest and Southeast and decided to attend Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee. I moved from Greenville to my tiny, austere apartment in the Music City, just two blocks away from the law school building, in August 1994. For reasons I don’t remember, I arrived a couple of minutes late to our orientation program on the first day. After sprinting to the auditorium where we were scheduled to meet, I hastily gathered some handouts from an administrator who appeared weary of dealing with unpunctual students and found one of the few remaining empty seats, near the front. I sat down and smiled at the young woman (10 years or so my junior) seated to my left who turned briefly to acknowledge my tardy arrival. We whispered “Hi” to each other and I glanced furtively at her name tag: “ANDREA FARLEY, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA,” it read.
Oh. My. God.
Half an hour later, during our first break, I shook her hand and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Tim” I began, before pivoting awkwardly with, “I can’t believe you’re the first person I’m meeting here!”
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, you know. You’re Andrea Farley! You’re THE Andrea Farley! I apologize for even asking, but… if you’re willing or interested, I’d love to hit some with you sometime. I’m not great, but I could probably keep the ball in play enough to give you some exercise.”
Her facial expression spoke volumes. Her shoulders slumped and she looked down at her feet. She was crestfallen.
“Yeah, well, Tim, look: I’m here to go to law school and become a lawyer. We’re gonna be pretty busy, you know? Plus, my shoulder is a little messed up from all the wear and tear. The whole tennis ‘thing’ is kinda behind me. Frankly, I don’t even like playing that much anymore. But, you know, maybe we could hit sometime. Maybe.”
I was astonished. How could someone who’d had so much success at a certain endeavor and possessed so much talent want to move on to something different? “Yeah, of course,” I replied. “I understand completely,” I assured her, even though I didn’t understand at all.
Over the course of the next few weeks we had numerous discussions about her decision to bid adieu to tennis, at least professionally, and pursue a legal career. And, indeed, her choice did make sense once I understood the whole context: She had played and trained for the past decade and a half for more hours than I had slept. Her body was weary and a bit broken down from it. She despised the never-ending travel, the lonely hotel rooms, the juvenile competitiveness on the court and in the locker room, and the vanity and emptiness of it all. She wanted, as she put it, “an adult career and life.”
Well, she attained it. She is a highly successful partner at a large Atlanta-based law firm, doing mergers and acquisitions work, and the mother of two beautiful children. She’s highly involved in a host of charitable activities, a mentor to many attorneys coming up through various ranks, one who’s probably uniquely qualified to impart some powerful lessons about maintaining perspective and the sometimes hard work of following paths of passion and personal preference, rather than (always) the ones of least resistance.
And more: After years of enduring a distinctly ambivalent relationship with tennis, she finally enjoys batting balls around again on the hard courts—though now it’s to teach her 10- and 7-year-old children how to play the game that taught her some of life’s important and difficult lessons.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.