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Cancer patient finds inspiration in tennis

October 25, 2013 02:32 PM
Ted Eisenheimer is playing through cancer to compete at the 2013 USTA League National Championships.

By Sarah Gulbrandsen, special to USTA.com

The USTA Southwest 3.5 men’s team has endured its share of struggles on the way to the 2013 USTA League National Championships in Tucson, Ariz. Richard Nardizzi broke his leg in sectionals before this championship, and Phil Johnson recently had his hip replaced.

And then there is Ted Elsenheimer. Elsenheimer has laryngeal cancer but has refused to let that stop him from playing in Nationals. And he’ll suit up for the Phoenix-based squad on Saturday – despite the fact that early Saturday morning he had a chemotherapy treatment.

Elsenheimer, 59, is a family man with a drive to stay healthy and active. He has a wife of 37 years and two daughters, Jessica, 29, and Kaitlin, 25.

“My family has been hurt more than me in these past months but they have also been incredibly supportive,” he said. “My wife is just the best. She is a champion and practically on the team. She has been loving and supporting, through all of this.”

Elsenheimer has also enjoyed the support of his community throughout his illness. He is the minister at the United Church of Chirst; Ktzio Friends Church, in Phoenix, and the members of his church have helped with taking him to radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“The people in my church are my family,” Elsenheimer.

The support doesn’t stop there. He has a wonderful doctor who he said has been vital with his recovery, both physically and mentally. In addition, his team and the game of tennis are always there for him. He did not even tell his team he had cancer until after its regional match this past August.

The Southwest men had never played tennis until two years ago. Some had played cricket and were interested in picking up a new sport, so they did. Since that time, captain Nagarajan Murugan and co-captain Rajan Kale have put together a formidable team that quickly got hooked on tennis, and in short order, made it all the way to Nationals.

This members of the team have many strengths, said Navin Gangadharan, but he noted that the greatest attribute is “their teamwork and their strategy.”

And, apparently, their love for the game. “You cannot beat the feeling of being on the court at Nationals,” said fellow teammate Arun Thirugnanasambandam. “We eat and live for tennis.”

This is a philosophy that Elsenheimer shares. “I’d rather play tennis than eat; it’s a lifelong passion,” he said. “And I am lucky to have such a wonderful team. My team and playing has raised me up and they have made my recovery easier. I have found lifelong friends on and off the court.”

In just six days Elsenheimer will complete his last treatment – and if the men from Phoenix can continue to rally around him, he may just do so with a championship trophy in hand.

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