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WebMD Checkup: James Blake

Tennis star James Blake talks about his recovery from illness and injury.

WebMD the Magazine - Feature

You broke your neck playing tennis in Italy in 2004. Are you fully recovered, and what was your physical therapy regimen like?
I'm fully recovered from my neck injury. The physical therapy regimen mainly consisted of rest. I wore a rigid plastic brace for three weeks, then a softer brace for four more. I couldn't do much --- it just took time for the bone to heal.

During your recovery from this injury, you lost your father to stomach cancer-a stress so significant it spurred an outbreak of shingles, which nearly ended your career. How did you possibly cope?
Through the help of my family and friends. I had a lot of time to think about what would happen if my career was over and came to the realization that I would still be happy --- my friends kept my spirits up and keep me laughing, and that helped.

How did your shingles affect you, and how long did they last?
Shingles affected my balance, eyesight, hearing, taste, and face. The symptoms were severe for about a month, then things slowly started to get better. My balance improved and my taste came back. But it was an extremely slow process --- my eyesight didn't return to normal for about six months.

Tell us about your comeback. Did you have a health game plan?
It started at the Hopman Cup in January 2005. I was playing very inconsistently and not really confident about my skills, and was without much of a plan. The doctors were unsure about my recovery and when --- or if --- I would feel normal again. I just tried to be in the best shape, with the hope that my athletic ability would return.

Do you treat your body differently now? How about your emotional self?
I'm a little more cautious in practice --- I actually let a few balls go without chasing them. Emotionally, I'm calmer about most things; I realize how important friends and family are, and how much I should just enjoy the game of tennis and the other blessings in my life.

Growing up, who was your biggest health hero?
My father. He worked out diligently, fasted once a week, and was a strict vegetarian. I never knew him to be sick a day in his life until he got cancer. He would walk instead of driving, ride his bike. He would work out every morning, no matter how early he had to be at work.

You had scoliosis as a child. Did you wear a brace, or have surgery?
I had to wear a Boston brace 18 hours a day, for four years starting at age 13. It helped to keep the curve from getting worse as I was growing.

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