A string of tragedies, which put his pro tennis career in jeopardy, made 2004 a terrible year for James Blake. The young athlete fractured his neck, his father died, and he came down with a career-threatening disease — all in the space of a few months.
While many would have crumbled, Blake fought back, all the way to the highest reaches of the Association of Tennis Professionals tour.
In his new memoir, "Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life," Blake tells the story of that crippling year, and how he came back to reach even greater heights on the court.
The book reveals Blake's infectiously optimistic attitude, finding the positive and learning from all experiences — including a broken neck and shingles.
"Breaking my neck was the best thing that happened to me in 2004, because it gave me six weeks to spend with my father when he was sick, and be home," Blake said. "I try to find the silver lining in everything."
In January 2004, Blake was a rising star on the tennis circuit. Then, in May, he was practicing on a court in Rome, and one, two, three, it all unraveled. It was raining, he was running, and he went into the net post at full speed.
"The doctor said that if I hadn't turned my head a little bit, I would have been paralyzed, so I was lucky," Blake said.
Blake dedicated the book to his father, who was his hero and role model. Blake said writing about his father's death was actually therapeutic, as it helped him to internalize his feelings.
"I had to verbalize my grief and put it down on paper, and it made the emotions come to the surface, and taught me about mourning," he explained.
Brains and Brawn
Blake's parents may have met on a tennis court, but athletics were never stressed in the household while Blake grew up — academics were the focus. So, it is no surprise that Blake eventually attended Harvard.
And it was at school that Blake started to really shine on the courts — which really surprised him.
"I expected to be fourth best on the team. Instead, I was fourth best in the college rankings nationwide. That's when I thought maybe I should give this a shot."
So, Blake pursued a professional tennis career. Now, he's preparing for the U.S. Open — an opportunity that proves he's come a long way.
He had severe scoliosis — a condition affecting the spine — and wore a back brace every day for four years as a kid growing up. Blake said this is when he began to search for the silver lining in all of his struggles.
"As a child, I learned that even if people make fun of you, it doesn't change who you are. Also, I was one of the few kids who could walk in there, and that made me appreciate my blessings and get some perspective," he said.