Middle States

A Heart Full of Love

“It’s hard to pace myself, I just love this sport,” Stephanie Austin said with a smile. 


Austin’s upcoming tennis schedule will keep her busy. But since her cardiac arrest nearly 15 years ago, pacing herself is a top priority. 


The concept of slowing down does not come naturally to Austin, a self-described “absurdly competitive” athlete. Austin has played sports year-round since the age of 7 and prior to her cardiac arrest, she competed on three soccer teams, played co-ed ultimate frisbee, lifted weights and just began tennis lessons. 


Tennis was meant to be the sport for when she got older. Life had other plans.


Today, the American Heart Association (AHA) volunteer is spreading the word about heart health and the benefits of tennis. USTA Middle States and the AHA of Philadelphia are partnering to showcase the importance of CPR training, the value of Cardiac Emergency Response Plans, and more.

It all started for Austin on a hot summer evening in July. Austin was in bed when her husband heard her take what could have been her final breath. He called her name, and she was unresponsive. He turned her over and saw she was blue. 


He quickly began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and called 911. Minutes later as she entered the ambulance, she still didn’t have a pulse. But thanks to her husband’s CPR training and fast-acting response, and thanks to the medical professionals who took over her care, she was resuscitated and survived.


Most are not as lucky – cardiac arrests are 100% fatal without intervention and only 10% of people survive a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital.

Austin’s road to recovery was easier because she was in such great shape, but that does not mean it was easy. She believes the emotional trauma of dealing with a cardiac arrest rivals the physical difficulties. 


Austin said she lost three years of her memory, recalling only brief snippets of the years before, during, and after the event. She was in heart failure, so she slept 18 hours a day and became completely reliant on others. A wife and mother of two, she focused on getting stronger each day. 


That’s when tennis came in.


“I felt like my identity had been taken from me,” Austin said. “For me, being an athlete is how I identified myself. I felt good about my prowess as an athlete, and then I couldn't even walk a block. So when I was recovering and able to start doing things again, I became laser-focused on tennis because that gave me confidence again. It made me feel good and strong.”


Slowly, Austin learned how to make tennis work for her. She plays timed matches and third-set tiebreaks. When her heart rate gets too high, her arrhythmias get worse, putting her at risk for another cardiac arrest. The arrhythmias also make her sick — something her doubles partner has learned the signs of. When this happens, Austin knows she needs to take 30 seconds to get back in rhythm. To get her heart back in rhythm. 


Austin credits tennis for giving her back her confidence, her identity as an athlete and what she considers tennis’ greatest gift: an incredible network of friends. 


These days, Austin organizes tennis round robins, where she teaches participants CPR and raises funds for the organization, Go Red for Women. Austin is passionate about empowering people and educating them about the importance of getting to someone quickly and knowing what to do. Bystander CPR increases survival two to three times. 


The support from the tennis community now extends to a larger level. 


"We're excited about our new partnership with the American Heart Association of Philadelphia,” Bridges said. “USTA Middle States is looking forward to working with the AHA to help promote the heart healthy benefits of playing tennis."


You can learn more about Austin’s story by clicking here.


For more information about the AHA of Philadelphia and Middle States partnership, contact Renee Bridges bridges@ms.usta.com


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