Tennis Success through Adversity
Spotlight Story with Ryan Colby
“I was determined to come back and play no matter what.”
Ryan Colby started playing tennis at age three. It was pure fascination and intrigue with his Dad’s tennis racquet that kick-started his tennis journey. Today, he has moved on from casually hitting a tennis ball against a garage door with his family to participating in and winning USTA National Junior Championships.
Ryan Colby’s journey to success has not come without challenges. After breaking his elbow at the 2018 USTA Clay Court Championships he was told by several doctors that he would never be able to play tennis again. With his successful surgery and resiliency, he powered through adversity and found his way back onto the tennis courts.
“Being injured was really hard, both mentally and physically. The doctors told me that I had little to no chance of playing at a high national or collegiate level based on how bad my injury was,” said Ryan. “Having reconstructive surgery on my playing elbow was tough, but I was determined to come back and play no matter what it took.”
Colby’s strength of character, determination, and love of the game kept his spirits high and after months of rehabilitation, physical therapy, and physical and mental fitness he is back to playing at a highly competitive level, and with much success as well.
On July 18, Colby won the Boys' 18s USTA National Clay Court Championships. Tagged as the No. 17 seed, Colby defeated the No. 9 seed Nicholas Heng (Alabama) in two sets, 7-6(4);6-3, to claim the title. Colby was also awarded the Boys’ 18 Player of the Tournament.
With this victory, Ryan Colby has his ticket to the US Open Junior Championships in Flushing Meadows, New York. “Winning Clay Courts was an amazing ride, and I am super excited to have the chance to play the US Open Juniors,” Colby said. “I feel fortunate and thankful to be healthy and playing at a high level again and can’t wait to see where my game will take me from here.”
USTA Mid-Atlantic chatted with Ryan Colby to learn more about his journey back to tennis and what motivated him to keep pushing for success.
USTA Mid-Atlantic: Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Ryan Colby: I grew up in Alexandria, VA, and have lived here my whole life
When did you start playing tennis?
I started playing tennis at age 3. I took one of my dad’s old tennis racquets and a ball out of the garage and began hitting against the garage door
In what ways have you benefited from the sport of tennis?
Tennis has benefited me in many ways. It has taught me to be independent, mentally tough, hardworking, and to be a problem solver. It has also taught me how to be gracious and humble.
Where do you play and how often?
I train at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, MD full time and attend Laurel Springs School. The day is usually split into blocks for training and fitness (4 hours/day) and School (4 hours/day).
What would you say is the best aspect of playing tennis in the Mid-Atlantic Region?
The best aspect of playing in the Mid-Atlantic Region is that all the states are close, so I see the friends I have made over the years more often than some other players might in their sections. It has also been a very competitive region and helped me advance my game to the level I’m at now.
After your injury in 2018, what motivated you to keep going?
Being injured was really hard, both mentally and physically. The doctors told me I had little to no chance of playing at a high national or collegiate level based on how bad my injury was. Having reconstructive surgery on my playing elbow was tough, but I was determined to come back and play no matter what it took. My love of the game motivated me to rehab as hard as I could and maintain my fitness level even when I couldn’t practice or hit a ball. I told myself, if for some reason I can’t play right-handed, I will play left-handed. So, during the months I was unable to use my right arm, I began practicing with my left hand. Fortunately, I had a great surgeon and was able to fully recover.
How did you find a balance between recovery and training?
The balance was really given to me by my doctor and physical therapists. The first couple of months was about resting and recovering and doing light rehab and physical therapy exercises. I knew I had to get my body healthy first before I began training again so that I wouldn’t reinjure myself. Once I was able to begin hitting balls again, my coaches started me out with the Orange Quick Start ball to keep the impact low. After a couple of months, I graduated to the Green and eventually a regular yellow ball. It was a long process of 8-10 months before I could play matches again, and I had a tough time in the beginning since I basically had to relearn how to hit the ball. After about 14 months I began to get my feel back and my fitness level had returned to normal, and I began playing at a high level again.
Who is your support system? How did they support you in your journey to returning to tennis?
I have a really strong support system. My doctors, coaches, and friends were great at inspiring me during the injury and recovery. They were always there to encourage and motivate me along the way. And of course, my parents have been there for me since day one and have always told me I could do anything I set my mind to.
Was there a player/role model you specifically looked up to who helped guide you to where you are today?
I admire players like Rafa and Roger and enjoy watching them, but I never wanted to be like them. I just try to be myself and be the best version of myself. I have had a lot of older friends that have given me great advice along the way, and have been mentors to me, which I really appreciate.
You just won the USTA B18s National Clay Court Championships and now have a ticket to the US Open Juniors Championships, what emotions are going through your mind?
Winning Clay Courts was an amazing ride, and I am super excited to have the chance to play the US Open Juniors! I feel fortunate and thankful to be healthy and playing at a high level again and can’t wait to see where my game will take me from here.
Do you have any advice for someone who is coming back to tennis from an injury?
Take it slow. Don’t rush the process no matter how frustrating it can be. Get 100% healthy before competing again.
Any other comments you would like to share with the Mid-Atlantic tennis community?
Just thank you for the opportunity to share my story. I hope it inspires someone else to come back and beat the odds!
USTA Mid-Atlantic creates opportunities for character-building through lessons learned by playing the sport. Ryan Colby’s strong character development has truly shined through his ability to overcome obstacles with hard work, determination, and support.
USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Learn about our impact in the Section and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.
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