WebMD Checkup: James Blake

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

From the WebMD Archives

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.

How did scoliosis affect your self-image, both as an athlete and a young person?

It made me pretty self-conscious. But it helped me to realize that if I was a nice person, people would like me for who I am. As an athlete, it gave me something to be thankful for --- during those six hours a day I got to take off the brace, I was eager to put that time to good use and loved doing anything athletic.

You had a remarkable year in tennis in 2005. How are you playing now?

It was a great year for my tennis. I finished with my highest year-end ranking to date, but I feel like I'm still improving and playing better right now. I've already won two titles this year and hopefully will continue to succeed and play even better.

Before a match, how do you prepare, physically and mentally? Do you have any rituals?

I go over the game plan with my coach. And I need to take a few minutes to myself to really go over how I am going to execute what I need to do on the court.

Let's talk nutrition: What foods do you swear by when you are training, and what is your secret indulgence?

I try to get plenty of protein and carbs --- lots of chicken and pasta, eggs, cereal and turkey bacon. My favorite indulgence is ice cream. I don't eat candy or drink soda, but I love ice cream.


If you could play any tennis player from any era, who would it be?

Andre Agassi. I've been lucky enough to play him quite a few times already. It's a match where we both get to play our games, but also adjust to what the other is doing. I also have so much respect for him as a person that it's a pleasure to play against him.

Of the five senses, which do you value most?

My sight, taste, and hearing was affected when I was sick with shingles. My sight was the one that I had so much trouble dealing with --- it made me less athletic. It was tough to cope with having blurred vision.

What's your best health habit? Your worst?

My best health habit is how hard I work out. I'm diligent about staying in shape. I need to for my career, but I know that I would be doing this no matter what job I had. I just can't deal with the feeling of being out of shape. Barring any major injuries, I will be working out all the time even after I retire. My worst health habit is probably staying up too late. I realize the importance of sleep, but sometimes I just still stay up and watch a movie or keep reading way too late.

If you couldn't play tennis, would you still be an athlete?

I think I would be. I have no idea if I would be able to make it in any other pro sport, but I'd definitely be a weekend warrior. I think the other sport that I would have the best chance in is baseball, but I'd need to hit the gym even harder for that.

What do you see yourself doing when you're 40? How about 70?

At 40, I hope to have finished my career --- and my education at Harvard University --- and I think I'll have figured out a lot of things about life that I probably don't know now. I will hopefully be successfully moving on to the next career after tennis. At 70, I hope to be healthy. I want to be able to get out there and play some tennis and golf at that age. But my main joys at that age will hopefully be my [yet-to-be-born] kids and possibly grandkids.

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD
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