Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Profile: Mark Stern- A Tennis Northeast ‘Addict’

If Mark Stern hadn’t found Tennis Northeast (Metro Boston Tennis League), he wouldn’t be the self-described “tennis nut” he is today.

He is not only a devoted Tennis Northeast (TNE) enthusiast, he is apparently the most ardent enthusiast in the entire Tennis League Network

Why? Because this 3.25 player now holds the record for most matches played in the spring season—an impressive total of 38.

 But what about the 183 matches he’s played in the 24 & 1/2 months that he has been a league member? That’s a lot an awful lot of tennis that has grown from a simple league flyer he saw posted at a tennis court. So, when people talk about the growth of tennis and TLN, it seems that Mark Stern owns a big chunk of it.

Any league rivalries? “I play almost every other week with Lenny Shea. For a while I was getting the better of him, but he has my number now.”

Tennis isn’t Mark’s only activity. It’s bigger than that. He is an exercise addict. He runs everyday with his dog; and as a soccer referee, he runs up and down the field with the kids, teens and adults. He has no interest, however, in becoming a tennis lines person. “It’s too sedentary." 

For Mark, beginning such an intense exercise regimen was a somewhat do or die kind of decision. A two-pack-a-day smoker for 26 years, from age 13 to 39, Mark says, “I finally decided something had to give.” So he quit smoking and started running. He jumped into it with zeal. He has run a dozen marathons, ten of them Boston marathons, and participates in an older men’s running team. In 15 years, his team has won the New England Championships more than half the time, and once placed second in a national competition.

With all that running, where did tennis come in? Mark explains:

“When my son was in the 8th grade, he decided to learn tennis and join the school team.“ Mark took lessons with him. And “that,” he says, “was my big mistake!” His son quit “because his father got too interested.” Now his son plays and writes music, and Mark is the only family member playing tennis.

By now you might be getting the picture that Mark is not only a tennis addict, but an all around exercise addict.”My wife and kids think I’m a nut, over the top on exercise.” Are they right? You be the judge.

You must be curious. How does this civil rights lawyer have all that time to devote to Tennis Northeast? That’s because he works less than full time—“sometimes 40 hours a week, sometimes 15. I’m a very good lawyer, but a mediocre business man.”

 There are two startling facts that would seem to belie his success in tennis. He’ll be 65 in September. And he has rheumatoid arthritis. Neither of these interferes with his physical activity.

 Does he think age is a factor in tennis?

“I get beaten by just as many guys in their 60s as by guys who are 25.” So age doesn’t appear to matter. Neither does his RA since he has no symptoms, which has stupefied his doctors. They saw it in his blood work and on an MRI, but Mark doesn’t feel it at all.

Mark didn’t pick up tennis until nearly five years ago at the age of 60. Why did he join the league?

“I was wanting to play more often than I could find partners. I absolutely love it and I’m completely addicted to it. If you need one more match, you can always call me.” Thus, Mark is always in the playoffs, and “always the lowest ranked player. I usually have 10-12 wins, but I never have won in the tournament.”

Here is something that makes him a truly unique competitor: “I prefer to play with better players and lose 2/3 of my matches, rather than win 2/3 of my matches. That’s one way to “get better and improve as a player.” To assist with that he’s now taking lessons.  

Mark is interested not only in his personal tennis progress, but also to the development of inner-city players. He "has made a personal campaign of collecting racquets players are no longer using to donate to an inner-city tennis program. If you want to donate directly, or through him, email him at"

(Photographer:  Grace Cheech

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