Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life

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9780061560606: Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life

James Blake's life was getting better every day. A rising tennis star and People magazine's Sexiest Male Athlete of 2002, he was leading a charmed life and loving every minute of it. But all that ended in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in an on-court freak accident. As he recovered, his father—who had been the inspiration for his tennis career—lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Blake was dealt a third blow when he contracted zoster, a rare virus that paralyzed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardized career.

In Breaking Back, Blake provides a remarkable account of how he came back from this terrible heartbreak and self-doubt to become one of the top tennis players in the world. A story of strength, passion, courage, and the unbreakable bonds between a father and son, Breaking Back is a celebration of one extraordinary athlete's indomitable spirit and his inspiring ability to find hope in the bleakest of times.

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About the Author:

James Blake has been a professional tennis player since 1999, when he left Harvard to join the professional tennis circuit. He grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, and currently resides in Tampa, Florida.

From The Washington Post:

Reviewed by Bruce Schoenfeld

The zone of unreality that often separates important politicians from the real world is nothing compared to the cocoons that surround top professional tennis players. As teenagers, they're already getting handed off from tournament director to tournament director, lodged in luxurious hotels and catered to by sponsors, agents and tour officials while the endorsement checks accumulate. Any interaction with normal people in the cities they pass through is fleeting.

James Blake has always been different -- but not that different. Raised by an African-American father and white mother in an academic-minded household in Fairfield, Conn. (his middle-class parents awarded him $25 for every 100 books he read), he wasn't shipped off to a tennis academy at the first sign of precocious talent; he actually played on his high school team. For two years, Blake attended Harvard and became the best collegiate player in America. But after a flurry of interest from some of the world's biggest management groups, which saw in him the sketchy outline of a Tiger Woods of tennis, he turned professional in 1999.

Before long, he was tucked into the same cocoon as the tennis lifers, partying with Giorgio Armani, meeting the pope, accepting as his due the perks of his profession. "Life out on the tour," he admits early in Breaking Back, his chronicle of a 2004 season filled with distress, injury, illness and -- ultimately -- insight, "is often one long dream." Four years into his professional career, he'd won only a single ATP Tour event. He routinely stayed up all night after each loss, distracting himself with hours of video poker. Yet as he shamefully realized, as of December 2003, his biggest decision was whether to shave off the dreadlocks that had become his signature look and risk losing endorsement dollars in the process.

During the annus horribilis that followed, Blake came to understand the shallowness of such an existence. First his father, an ex-soldier called "iron man" by his wife, fell ill with stomach cancer. He was already deteriorating when Blake suffered a freak accident on a practice court in Italy that fractured a vertebra. Then he contracted zoster, or shingles, which rendered half his face immobile, forced him to shuffle down hallways like an invalid and threatened to end his career.

The fracture had a silver lining: It enabled Blake to spend his father's last weeks with him. And in the midst of his own recovery, Blake experienced an epiphany: "[I] thought about how many matches I had squandered or let go out of impatience or frustration . . . how little I had bothered to learn about all the cities I'd visited. I thought about how truly unique my position was, and yet it was not until then that I'd ever recognized it as such."

As his run of misfortune continued, so did his philosophical journey. When he attempted to push through a comeback session against his doctor's recommendations, he found he could hardly hit the ball. "That was the first time when I really came to recognize the limits of willpower and resolve," he writes, words of true wisdom that I've been waiting years for any athlete to utter. (Next on my list: "God had no interest in the outcome of this game.") Ultimately, it became clear to Blake that his former concerns were hardly concerns at all. "When you play tennis for a living," he writes, "the world is pretty simple; it's the rest of the world and the rest of life that's much more complicated."

Not since Courting Danger, Alice Marble's 1991 tale that revealed (or perhaps invented) her undercover work as a World War II spy, has a tennis autobiography offered its readers so little tennis. By the time Blake offers detailed play-by-play of a match 186 pages in, we're ready for it -- and firmly on his side. Befitting the heightened state of Blake's enlightenment, the book's climax is a defeat: to Andre Agassi, in a U.S. Open semifinal.

Yet in true Zen fashion, by relaxing his grip, Blake began to succeed as never before, winning two more tournaments and earning a ranking in the world's Top 25. Taking stock of his success in December 2005, he asked Brian Barker, his longtime coach, if he was truly "bound for bigger and better things than either of us really thought were possible." Barker's response serves as a fitting coda for this admirably unusual sports memoir: "He looked at me incredulously. 'I have no idea,' he said."

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In 2004, James Blake s world was getting more perfect by the day. As a rising young tennis star, his life and his game were constantly gathering new momentum while he travelled the world and rose through the international tennis rankings - eventually climbing as high as number twenty-two. With a tournament victory and many great matches under his belt (not to mention being named People Magazine s Sexiest Male Athlete in 2002). But that life came to a shocking halt in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in a freak accident on the court. A few months later, as he was recovering from his injury, he suffered another heart-stopping setback when his father - the man who had been the inspiration for his tennis career and the center of his world - lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father s death, Blake was dealt a third blow when he contracted Zoster, a rare virus that paralysed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardised tennis career. New York Times bestseller Breaking Back tells the dramatic story of the tumultuous year that followed this convergence of tragedies. With honest, open prose, Blake examines the frustrating heartbreak that followed him from hard-fought qualifiers to match point on the US Open s center court. Detailing each step of his arduous journey, he explains how the off-court challenges of 2004 powered him through his self-doubt, guided him to the world s top five, and proved that even in death his father was still teaching him to be a man. Bookseller Inventory # AA89780061560606

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In 2004, James Blake s world was getting more perfect by the day. As a rising young tennis star, his life and his game were constantly gathering new momentum while he travelled the world and rose through the international tennis rankings - eventually climbing as high as number twenty-two. With a tournament victory and many great matches under his belt (not to mention being named People Magazine s Sexiest Male Athlete in 2002). But that life came to a shocking halt in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in a freak accident on the court. A few months later, as he was recovering from his injury, he suffered another heart-stopping setback when his father - the man who had been the inspiration for his tennis career and the center of his world - lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father s death, Blake was dealt a third blow when he contracted Zoster, a rare virus that paralysed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardised tennis career. New York Times bestseller Breaking Back tells the dramatic story of the tumultuous year that followed this convergence of tragedies. With honest, open prose, Blake examines the frustrating heartbreak that followed him from hard-fought qualifiers to match point on the US Open s center court. Detailing each step of his arduous journey, he explains how the off-court challenges of 2004 powered him through his self-doubt, guided him to the world s top five, and proved that even in death his father was still teaching him to be a man. Bookseller Inventory # AA89780061560606

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life, James Blake, In 2004, James Blake's world was getting more perfect by the day. As a rising young tennis star, his life and his game were constantly gathering new momentum while he travelled the world and rose through the international tennis rankings - eventually climbing as high as number twenty-two. With a tournament victory and many great matches under his belt (not to mention being named "People Magazine's" Sexiest Male Athlete in 2002). But that life came to a shocking halt in May 2004, when Blake fractured his neck in a freak accident on the court. A few months later, as he was recovering from his injury, he suffered another heart-stopping setback when his father - the man who had been the inspiration for his tennis career and the center of his world - lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Blake was dealt a third blow when he contracted Zoster, a rare virus that paralysed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardised tennis career."New York Times" bestseller "Breaking Back" tells the dramatic story of the tumultuous year that followed this convergence of tragedies. With honest, open prose, Blake examines the frustrating heartbreak that followed him from hard-fought qualifiers to match point on the US Open's center court. Detailing each step of his arduous journey, he explains how the off-court challenges of 2004 powered him through his self-doubt, guided him to the world's top five, and proved that even in death his father was still teaching him to be a man. Bookseller Inventory # B9780061560606

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