ASHLAND, Ore. – Leo Young’s life is much like an epic tennis match. He goes down one set but comes back the next.
“There’s a part of you that says, ‘OK, so you’ve done a good job. It’s okay to lose this,’” Young says.
However, losing’s not something Young is very fond of.
“He will literally win at all costs,” his wife Jennifer Young says. “It’s that mentality of, if whatever he’s doing isn’t working, he’s going to find some ugly way to pull it off.”
That resembles his career, which is a bit unconventional. After retiring from the professional circuit in his early 20′s, Young, who was teaching the sport, started thinking about a comeback. At this point, he was in his 40′s.
“I sort of got the bug again,” he says. “I just have this huge passion for it.”
But three years ago Young sought advice on a nagging shoulder injury. Eventually his doctors decided surgery was needed.
“Pretty much if you have major shoulder surgery you don’t play any more,” Young says.
That didn’t keep Leo Young out. Within eight months, his shoulder felt great.
“So I went out and played a tournament and I was having some foot problems but nothing major,” Young says. “Anyway, I took a bad step and tore both peroneal tendons.”
The peroneal tendons lie just behind the ankle. So just like that, Young was back under the knife with another surgeon.
“[The surgeon] said, ‘Look, against my better judgment, you’re 49 years old at that time,’” Young recalls. “‘I’ll go ahead and do the surgery, but no expectations, and you really shouldn’t be playing tennis.’”
But Leo Young still defied the odds.
“The amazing thing is that he never really lets anything get him down,” Jennifer says. “With the injuries and the surgeries, he always just gives himself a timeline and says, ‘I’m going to make it happen by then.’”
That timeline included rehab with trainer Steven Dahn, strenuous enough for any athlete let alone someone approaching 50.
“When we started, he fought it a lot,” Dahn said. “‘I can’t do this. I can’t do squats. I can’t do lunges. I can’t jump. Come on, what are you talking about?’”
But with Dahn’s help, Young realized this is just the first set, and he was capable of working himself back into the match. So at 50 years-old, after major surgeries, Leo Young committed to working harder than ever.
“The transition from, ‘No I can’t perform this activity,’ to ,’No,I can’t stop’ was when I knew that he was on his way back up,” Dahn says.
“That goes to show you that it really is about the attitude, not about the obstacles that are thrown in your path,” Jennifer says.
“One of the biggest strengths I have is my mental toughness,” Leo explains. “That’s actually a weapon for me. I have a way of coming back in matches and win matches that are difficult or that I shouldn’t win.”
That’s Leo Young’s truth on the courts and in life.