Grant Partrick can still deliver a serve across the net with a tremendous amount of force, and was clocked as high as 131 miles per hour last year as a senior on the tennis team at North Georgia College & State University. His forehand and backhand shots are also far ahead of the skill level of the average weekend warrior on the tennis court.
However, two major shoulder surgeries after high school for Partrick, a 2005 Gainesville High graduate, have made him focus on the fact that life after tennis is his reality, instead of his life-long dream of making it pro prior to having his serving shoulder fail him.
“I’m a step slow and a shoulder short now,” said Partrick between teaching lessons at the Lee Martin Tennis Center at Lakeview Academy.
Partrick has come to grips with the fact that his body, specifically a torn labrum in the shoulder, was the missing link in potentially becoming a household name in the tennis world. That’s a tough pill to swallow for an athlete that lived, breathed and dreamed about tennis since he decided he was going to be a professional at the age of 11.
“At first, I blamed everyone for the injury,” Partrick said. “But because I have such a great family, they were able to pull me out of it.
“I came to realize that getting hurt is something that you can’t control.”
Partrick has also found the silver lining with having such a devastating injury. He’s realized the same work ethic he put into tennis and playing 8-10 hours each day translates into becoming successful in the work world. With plans to graduate from NGCSU in December with a degree in finance, he carries an approximate GPA of 3.60.
Along with playing on the men’s tennis program, he’s found the opportunity to get involved in campus extracurricular activities like serving on the Student Government Association and president of his fraternity.
“I think it’s true for everyone that the lessons and work ethic it takes to play sports translate into the rest of life,” said Grant’s father, Tom Partrick. “Grant’s an exceptional kid and he’s going to do well in life, no matter what he does.”
Life away from the tennis court is something that Partrick never experienced growing up as a prodigy. He was willing to sacrifice a social life to chase him dream. And everything was right on track all the way through high school.
Flashback five years and Partrick, a three-time Times’ Tennis Player of the Year, was living in close quarters his senior year of high school with some of the nation’s best young talent at the Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C. That came at a cost of being away from friends and family during his final year of being a kid.
But he wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity to become the first scholarship athlete at Smith-Stearns and train under Stan Smith’s grooming — a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion.
However, right when things were going best, it all started falling apart for Partrick. Due to such extensive use, his shoulder required its first surgery on the labrum, an injury common among tennis players, on Dec. 1, 2005. Then after rehabilitation, it all went south again and required another surgery from world-renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Nov. 2006.
Having a second surgery essentially brought an end to any chance of playing professionally.
“It was like getting kicked when I was already down,” Partrick, 23, said in a 2008 interview with The Times.
Dr. John Murray, a sports psychologist that specializes in studying athletes with injury, knows that a career-ending injury can become traumatic to handle. Some athletes create an identity based solely on sports and put “all their eggs in one basket,” said Murray.
“The identity of some athletes can be shattered when they suffer a career-ending injury,” Murray said. “In some cases, they don’t have a lot to fall back on and their recovery is based on their resources.”
For his doctoral dissertation, Murray studied injuries of players from the Florida Gators football program in 1996, the eventual national champions.
With a study sample of about 110 athletes, he found that injury causes tremendous stress for the afflicted. The athletes long-term emotional recovery is determined by three main factors: emotional resources, meaningfulness to the team and severity of the injury. He found that less than 50 percent of athletes that he diagnosed with a severe injury suffered any long-term emotional impact.
“If the athlete feels like others are behind them and supporting them, they do much better in the long run,” Murray said. “Social support has much more of an impact on (emotional) recovery than the severity of the injury.”
Even after Partrick went under the knife for the second time, he wasn’t ruling out a return to full strength during an eighth rehabilitation effort. However, the truth sank in pretty quickly that shots he made with ease previously weren’t quite so effortless anymore.
“I just never got my full flexibility back again,” Partrick said. “It was the in-between shots that are the toughest.”
Now that he’s counted out the possibility of making the big bucks in the sport, it still hasn’t dampened his love for playing tennis.
Partrick plays in what he refers to as a very competitive level of ALTA competition.
However, the most therapeutic way to find peace with his tennis fate is through teaching the game to the next generation. Along with Murry Lokasundaram, who Partrick calls one of the best tennis mind’s in the country, they are in the infant stages of developing a tennis academy, based out of Lakeview Academy to work with young players.
Partrick says that it fits a need with such good talent in Hall County. It also makes for a smooth transition to looking at the sport in a different light without the same competitive expectations.
“It’s good for athletes that experience a career-ending injury to still be involved in the sports culture with the teaching and camaraderie involved,” said sports psychologist Dr. Rick Van Haveren. “Eventually, they start to realize that life is long and start to develop lots of interests, and realize that sports is not everything in life — it’s going to be OK.”
At North Georgia, Partrick spent his career playing in singles and at No. 1 doubles, even earning the honor of being team captain. Even though his record wasn’t as good as he may have liked, one of the hardest lessons was coming to grips that he wouldn’t be able to beat top-ranked players as a direct result of a shoulder that had been through so much wear and tear.
Partrick still isn’t sure what the future holds after college. He said it’s completely possible that his tennis academy could flourish and he could actively stay involved teaching the game for years to come. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of attending law school.
Either way, he wants his life to be spent right here where his tennis vision all began.
“I can’t see leaving (Gainesville),” Partrick said. “This whole community got behind me and allowed me to chase my dream.
“I want others to know that it’s OK to chase crazy dreams.”