Beyond the Court and Beyond MS



By Marianly H. Primmer
 
Eric Pierce grips the tennis ball in his hand, throws it and swings his tennis racket, sending the ball across the court with a menacing stroke.
 
“It just feels like home,” Eric said.
 
He has been playing tennis for 20 years, but he plays his own way. The 57-year-old was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis at 32. After a while, he began using a cane, then forearm crutches. Five years after his diagnosis, he was buying his first wheelchair to use on occasion.  
 
At the time of his diagnosis, he was devastated. Eric admitted he cried. “I still do. I’m trying not to right now. It’s painful.”
 
He gave up a lucrative career at an international technology company. “I loved it, but MS got in the way.” In fact, MS affected every part of Eric’s life. He said he had to redefine what he believed made him a man.
 
“In my mind, a man was me at 6-foot-2, strong, athletic, riding motorcycles, a few tattoos, being a good father and a good husband,” Eric said.
 
Eventually, using a wheelchair became the only way he could move. But he learned to adapt. The person who sold him his first wheelchair told him about a local tennis program for people with disabilities. Despite having never played tennis before, Eric joined the program. He found a new hobby and a new outlook. “I felt like my world opened up. The MS diagnosis was not the end of my life; it was actually almost the beginning.”
 
His new hobby also gave him a renewed passion for life. “I started meeting people that were positive and upbeat, and they were in wheelchairs. So, if they can be happy, I can be happy. When I first started playing tennis, those guys are the ones who inspired me to change my attitude and think of what I can do, not what I can’t do,” he said.
 
Today, the 57-year-old practices every week through the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program (ASAP) in Charlotte, N.C. Now, Eric is the one who helps new players feel at home, “Suddenly I’m encouraging people, and it makes me feel good. I feel like I can give back now.”
 
ASAP coordinator Jennifer Moore believes Eric is integral to the fellowship of the program, “He has always come with such a dynamic personality. What’s most special about Eric is what he brings out in other people.”

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