Tennis: Europe Legacies - Part III

Happy New Year 2015 to all of our readers and best wishes for a wonderful year!  We hope to greet many of you in our winter travels and on our teams this coming summer.


Tennis; Europe Legacies - Part III


We are pleased to continue our series of blogs featuring past participants on Tennis: Europe and what they have accomplished in their days since our trip. Our two women and two men in this blog span our entire existence from our very first trip in 1973 to just several years ago in 2011.


Again, the hometowns listed refer to where the player was from at the time of their trip.


Dr. Michael P. Johnson, Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York was a member of our inaugural team of 5 players, our very first trip.  At the time, he played school tennis for North Shore High School and we met him through Nassau County school tennis.  He went on to play his college tennis for Clark University in Worcester, Mass., the alma mater of your blogger Martin Vinokur.  Mike played at the top of this Division 3 team for 4 years and his tennis coach, the late Dr. Ed Trachtenberg, was the pre-med advisor who encouraged Michael to go on to a career in medicine.  Following this advice, Mike went on to become one of the foremost doctors in the country in AIDS research.  He worked at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland for many years and was the Deputy Director of the Fogarty International Center of NIH.  Most recently, when we last spoke to him, he was continuing his AIDS work in the international setting of Geneva, Switzerland.  Perhaps his greatest recognition was in year 2000, when the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) honored him at the U.S. Open with the ITA Lifetime Achievement Award for a tennis student-athlete. Only one male and one female are honored each year.  Dr. Johnson at the time was the only Division 3 tennis player ever honored and the only college tennis player from Clark to ever receive an ITA award.


     During his Tennis: Europe trip, the 1973 team played tournaments in Rotterdam, Holland...Hamburg, Germany and in Austria.


Grace Baljon, Ponte Vedra, Florida was a member of our 2002 Gold Medal Team and 2003 National Team, and also served on our coaching staff during summer 2011 with the Costa del Sol Team.  A top 30 ranked player in juniors in Florida, she did quite well in her Tennis: Europe tournaments in Holland, Germany and elsewhere.  Grace attended Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. and her most noteworthy achievement was winning the Division 3 National Team Championship each of her four years on the team.  She played # 1 during her senior year and despite being injured during the latter part of that season, she still managed to reach the finals of the individual singles nationals while Williams again was winning the 2010 team championship.  Following graduation with an Art History major, Grace completed her Master's degree with Christie's in New York, where she is presently the Executive Assistant to the Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art at the famous auction house. 


Russ Thaler, Fair Lawn, New Jersey traveled with our Common Market (now Grand Slam) Team in the summer of 1989.  These days, he can be seen on the NBC Sports Channel (with occasional appearances on NBC itself) as one of the lead commentators for Major League Soccer along with some ice hockey appearances as moderator between periods. Russ was a ranked top 120 USTA/Eastern ranked player during his junior days and played college tennis for several years at Division 3 powerhouse, Emory in Atlanta, Ga. where he made some appearances in their top 6 starters.  Following Emory, he began the wanderlust which goes with life in the media, which included stops in Washington DC for a talk radio sports show, in several other locations and now he does his NBC work from Tennis: Europe's hometown of Stamford,CT.  He and his wife and two sons live in nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut.  Last year, when we met for lunch in Stamford, Russ recalled his Tennis: Europe trip as a growth experience which re-energized him to play more junior tournaments and led to playing college tennis.


Abby Farrell, Wilsonville, Oregon (suburb of Portland) was a member of our 2009 Mallorca to Barcelona Team and a Staff Assistant with our 2011 Costa del Sol/Benelux Team.  She will be joining our professional staff for our summer 2015 trip.  Abby is just completing her college tennis career as Captain of the Lehigh (Pa.) women's tennis team, where she has been named second team All-Patriot League and Academic All-Patriot League Team, playing at the # 1 and # 2 singles positions in this Division I program.  In a recent interview, she spoke about her four years at Lehigh, where she is also the sports editor of the yearbook, a residential advisor, a school tour guide and a member of the student athletic council. "My college career is far more than I ever could have expected.  Between the course work, tennis, friendships and everything else that college students have the chance to experience, I have taken full advantage of my opportunities."  She is an IDEAS major (integrated degree in engineering and art sciences) and is headed to graduate school in environmental engineering in the fall of 2015.


     Of the many endeavors Abby has taken on in college, a summer 2014 opportunity might have been the most rewarding of all: she traveled to Ghana to help alleviate environmental problems.  She worked an internship with the non-profit Community Water Solutions to start a water treatment plant.  She also helped low income farmers to develop sustainable and more comfortable farming techniques.  "My biggest take away from my time in Ghana is a better understanding of how difficult it is to clean water."  She said, "The experience in Ghana was incredible."


     We look forward to welcoming Abby to the Tennis: Europe staff this summer !

                                                          Blog by Dr. Martin Vinokur, Co-Director