Book Review – If I’m only 22, How Come I’m 82?

Written by: on 23rd June 2012
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Vic Braden: If I’m only 22, How Come I’m 82?

Book Review by Jack Neworth

Has there ever been a greater ambassador for the game of tennis than the sport’s best-selling author, Vic Braden? Possibly, but certainly none any funnier. In his latest book, If I’m Only 22, How Come I’m 82? Braden jokes about the problems of getting older. “When you’re in your 80s and you haven’t seen someone for a long time, they tend to think you’re dead.” (Ouch!)

And sure enough, in the book Vic reprints a letter from his former literary agent sent to a co-author of Vic’s. (Vic has written eight books.) “I have a recollection,” the agent writes, “that Vic died a few years ago. So if you know where his heirs are, would you please send them this check.” (Braden could rightfully quote Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”)

In a remarkable Walter Mitty-life, Braden has traveled the world, teaching and inspiring hundreds of thousands of tennis enthusiasts and countless celebrities from all walks of life in his seventy-year fascination with tennis. The book is a must for anyone who loves the game or loves life as much as Braden does.

If I’m Only 22 is a wonderful and charming history of tennis going back to the barnstorming days of the 40’s and 50’s where a total purse might be $15,000 until the present day where, at Wimbledon this year, the purse is $24,000,000. (Vic includes vintage tournament programs advertising ticket prices from $0.90 to $4. At Wimbledon this year you can spend $7225 for a single premium seat. Ouch #2.)

In addition to the story of Vic’s colorful and humor-filled life, the book is enhanced by tremendous photos from the early days of pro tennis and before. (In his library, Vic has archived over 60,000 classic tennis photos.) But the book is also an insightful glimpse of the American history Vic has lived through.

Victor Kenneth Braden, Jr. was born in the small town of Monroe, Michigan on August 2, 1929, which was not exactly an ideal time to come into this world. Two months later came the great stock market crash of ’29 and not that long afterwards came WWII. One of eight children, Vic grew up in very lean economic times, to put it mildly.

Vic describes being a young boy during the war and recalls the Western Union messenger who would ride his bike to deliver the dreaded telegram from the War Department to let families know of a loved one killed in action. There would be a sigh of relief in households when the bicyclist would ride by. For those not so fortunate, soon a wreath would appear on the front door of households which had lost a GI.

But the main focus is tennis, or as the sub-title reads, “Tennis is more than just a sport.” For Vic it’s been the springboard for his entire life. As a 12 year-old, he was caught stealing tennis balls by a recreation director, Lawrence Alto, who gave him a choice: “You can go to jail or learn to play tennis.” As Vic writes, “That was a no-brainer for me.”

Growing up this toothy-smiling kid played baseball, basketball, football. In high school, at a mere 5’6” he was the starting quarterback and co-captain of the basketball team. But it was tennis that that would open new worlds to Vic as he was the first player to win the state singles championships for three years.

And it was tennis that afforded Braden a much-coveted college scholarship. At Kalamazoo College he was captain of the tennis and he personally won the league title in singles. (In a touching ceremony, in 2008, Vic was awarded an honorary Doctorate from his alma mater.)

In 1951, while serving as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Toledo, Braden also played pro tennis which was still in its infancy. (Unlike every other sport, in tennis top players had been denied a way to make a living.) Among the pioneers he played with were Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer and my personal favorite, Richard (Pancho) Gonzalez.

After obtaining a master’s in educational psychology, Braden joined Kramer’s pro tour and later co-founded The Jack Kramer Club. He went on to develop the “tennis college” concept in California, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, and was allowed to bring tennis to China. In 1986, Kramer paid Vic the ultimate compliment, “McEnroe, Borg, and Connors were great for tennis, but I don’t think any one of them has created the interest in the sport Vic has.”

And what a life it has been. Throughout the years Braden was a college and pro tennis player, coach, elementary school teacher, sports psychologist, author, motivational speaker, TV broadcaster, husband, father and a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame. (Whew.)

Today, Vic and Melody, his beautiful wife of thirty-nine years, live in Coto de Caza which is where Vic wrote the book. Poignantly, he dedicated it to his “hero,” his late daughter Kelly, who courageously battled Lupus until her death in 2002 and was an inspiration to all who met her. (And just from reading about her, to me as well.)

Current tennis stars would be well served (no pun intended) to read If I’m 22, How Come I’m 82? to learn about the humble beginnings of their sport. For fans, the book offers a firsthand account of how the game began and evolved. (Plus the photos alone are worth the price of admission, so to speak.)

My only critique of Braden’s tome is, at 115 pages, it’s perhaps too short. At his age, Vic swears this is his last book but I’m hoping that next year there’s an If I’m 22, How Come I’m 83?

(Jack Neworth’s column Laughing Matters appears every Friday at the Santa Monica Daily Press @smdp.com. He’s also the co-author of “Fury and Grace,” a screenplay on the life of Pancho Gonzalez. Jack can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com. To order Vic’s book contact vicbraden@vicbraden.com.)





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