A year of tennis, anyone?
MICHIGAN CITY — Back on New Year’s Day, Bob Modesto took a cardio tennis class at the Midtown club in Chicago, where his daughter Maureen works.
Little did the 59-year-old instructor at the Northwest Athletic Club and father of three Division-I players know it would lead to a 365-day tennis odyssey.
“I did (the class) and I was like, oh gosh,” said Modesto, who played in high school at Calumet. “I felt like Roberto Duran, no mas.”
The next four days, Modesto hit with his youngest daughter, Meg, a senior at Valparaiso University, and it got him to thinking, first, about playing 21 days in a row, next, about playing 60 days straight, then, about playing 12 months without a break.
“They say, if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit,” Modesto said. “Then, I heard, no, it’s not 21, it’s 60, so I made it to 60. Initially, I thought, how long is this going to last? Can I do it every day?”
Once Modesto made the commitment for the whole year, it became a scheduling process. He began documenting each day in a pocket calendar book, logging each opponent and the result of the best-of-three sets match. Just as importantly, he started planning ahead, penciling in days with locations and opponents as far in advance as he could.
“At this stage, it’s the same guy every Tuesday, every Thursday,” he said. “Every once in a while, a guy might not be available. Usually, I go about a couple days out.
“I started mentioning it to people. People would reach out and say, if you need anybody, I’m available. They know it. They’ll ask, hey, what day are you on?”
Over the course of the year, Modesto has had 54 opponents, men and women ranging in age from 17 or 18 to their 60s, pros and college players included. His students at the NAC all know about it and have jumped in as needed.
“It’s run the whole spectrum,” he said.
Todd Spears of La Porte has been his most common court mate, playing Modesto 50 times. All of the matches came before August when Spears was sidelined by a back injury.
“He was probably the first person who said, ‘I’m there for you, let me know,’” Modesto said. “We’d be here at 5:30 in the morning.”
His toughest opponent? Daughter Meg.
“She’s pretty tough,” he said. “I think she’s gotten better in the process.”
There are also plenty of folks whom Modesto has faced just once, like a South Bend man who heard about what he was doing, contacted him about being a part of it, and showed up last Sunday to play.
“You’re always dependent upon having somebody. You can’t do it yourself. That’s what probably sticks out the most,” Modesto said. “Once I started, I heard about a guy who did it (every day) for surfing. Then I saw on YouTube, there was a guy who ran. Those are things you can do by yourself. This you have to have a strong support group.”
Modesto has played most of his indoor matches at the NAC and most of his outdoor matches, which ranged from April to November, at Valparaiso University.
“Outdoors, you’re looking at the weather,” he said. “Indoors, you’re looking at court availability. It varies from day to day.”
The holidays have presented challenges since facilities are typically closed. Maureen got him in at Midtown on Thanksgiving for a 7 a.m. match and will do the same Tuesday for Christmas.
“There’s a guy who’s Jewish, so he doesn’t celebrate Christmas,” Modesto said.
Easter looked like it was going to be problematic with poor weather and no facilities open, but Bill Mountford, whose wife is an associate athletic director at Notre Dame, got him in there for a doubles match.
“He said, ‘Bob, I’ve got the keys, we’ll get you in,’” Modesto said.
The trickiest day was when Modesto flew to Atlanta to pick up a car for his wife. He made arrangements to play at the Westgate Tennis Center in Dothan, Alabama, but as he was ready to take the court at 5 p.m., he looked up to see a big rain cloud.
“I was thinking, if it rains, this whole thing is done,” he said.
Fortunately, it only drizzled, and the surface was clay, so Modesto was able to play through it.
Just on Friday, Modesto almost ran into a snag when the NAC had a power outage. Back in February, he soldiered through a flu bug for a couple days.
“I told Todd, ‘I’m sick, but I’ve got to hit,’” he said. “We played, I went home to bed, I woke up and said, ‘Can you go again?’ I came back and played and went home to bed again.”
As Modesto reached the halfway point, Mountford sent him some inspiration in the form of the Bon Jovi song, Livin’ On a Prayer.
“Halfway there,” Modesto said. “I think that date was July 2. How cool is that?”
Along the way, Modesto has dropped close to 25 pounds, reaching a weight (194) he hasn’t been at since he was in his 20s. His blood pressure dropped as well.
“I did it without doing any kind of real dieting,” he said. “One, it’s physical activity. Also, before I go out and play a match, I can’t eat a lot. It makes a big difference. It’s not anything I sought, but it’s been terrific.”
Modesto believes the daily competition has also made him a better teacher.
“When you start playing every day, you get more into the mental part of the game, handling the pressure,” he said.
While he’s worn through three pairs of shoes over the year, he hasn’t had to foot the bill for new ones as Babolat has provided him with replacements.
“I’m friends with the dealer,” he said. “They told me, for what you’re doing, we’ll provide the shoes. It’s a nice little benefit.”
As the days wind down to single digits and the finish line is in sight, Modesto is excited to see it coming to a close.
“At this point, it’s all consuming,” he said. “People were coming in (Friday), saying, hey, only nine days left. It’s like, I can’t miss now. It’s been a great journey.”
So what will it be like come New Year’s Day? Modesto’s thinking about heading back to Midtown for the cardio tennis class, where it all began.
″(Maureen) said, ’If you hadn’t done the class, you would have never done this,” he said. “I’m definitely going to stay away a couple days. I’m on the court maybe five days a week (normally). It’ll be different. I’m sure I’ll be playing still, just not quite like this.”