By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
Brenda Burleson, 55, picked up a tennis racquet for the first time eight years ago, and the game quickly helped her gain confidence and see herself as an athlete for the first time. But shortly after starting to play, she began to suffer from arthritis in both knees and not only had to deal with pain, but also loss of mobility.
But through a combination of diet changes and determination, Burleson, of Haymarket, Va., found her way back onto the tennis court pain-free -- and into the USTA League 18 & Over 2.5 National Championships as a member of the USTA Mid-Atlantic team.
“There was two to three years I wasn’t playing very much,” said Burleson, who eventually recovered when she eliminated grains from her diet and was able to resume playing tennis for two hours a day. Recent nutrition studies have determined that some groups of amino acids (proteins) in grains, especially in refined or processed foods, mirrors that of body tissue; thus, immune recognition of those proteins may be compromised and inflammation occurs.
“When I was still eating grains, I could play maybe one day and then have to take a day or two off and then play another day, which was a little more difficult,” said Burleson. “It took me two or three years to figure it out.”
Competing at the 2.5 level, Burleson has seen many changes over the years as she noted that the depth and quality of play is at a much higher level than it was in the past. Burleson said it was never her specific goal to play in the National Championships but simply to do her best -- and when she started playing with her current team, everything fell into place.
“We’re the right group of people with the right personalities at the right time. We operate as a unit. We’re all in it together, win or lose. It’s been great,” said Burleson.
“I’m just so impressed with the level of competitiveness of all the women,” she added of the experience of competing at Nationals. “Everybody just gives it their all. People are here to win and it’s bringing out the best in all of us.”