In the spring of 1995 Becky was rushed to a local Arlington Hospital in the early hours of the morning having difficulty breathing and speaking. I arrived a few minutes later and observed that she was very restless and confused. She was constantly moving her legs and squirming about on the hospital bed. I was told that the resident physician thought she was having a panic attack. This was an absurd diagnosis. I found the doctor (whose name we are withholding) and explained that I knew this patient well (we were not married at the time) and worked with her. She could never have a panic attack. In fact, she excelled at functioning under pressure. The doctor just said to me "I have made my diagnoses" and walked off.
This was a frightening moment and before I could gather myself for action, the doctor had ordered her to be strapped down and administered a double dose of Haldol. Hearing her cry out for help when I was helpless to stop this blind course of action by the hospital will always remain as a vivid memory.
At this point I was sure her life was at stake because her symptoms were consistent with some form of encephalitis. Since I worked in the field of neuroscience I went to the phone and awoke a neurosurgeon from George Washington University (GWU) Hospital whom I knew.
"Steve, I have a problem. Becky is in the hospital and is having difficulty talking, swallowing, and is extremely restless. The doctors here are treating it as a panic attack. I need your help in getting her out of here."
My problem was that one cannot transfer a patient to another hospital unless a doctor at the receiving hospital will accept them. Steve called the head of Neurology at GWU who agreed to take Becky. It was another four hours before we actually got her transferred.
By the time she arrived at GW she was unconscious. Their first act was to try and get a spinal tap, but there were problems. The Haldol she was given was exactly the wrong drug for encephalitis or any disease that could induce seizures. As the doctors tried to perform the spinal tap, Becky began to fight and yell out in what sounded like a strange language. Even with five very strong assistants, it was impossible to get the spinal tap they needed. They would have to wait for the Haldol to wear off and administer the correct drug to relax her.
It was twelve hours after the onset of her symptoms before the spinal tap could be performed, and what seemed like an eternity before the results were back: 96 white blood cell count in the cerebral spinal fluid--presumptive viral encephalitis. In lieu of a brain biopsy, the attending physician decided to begin treatment at once with acyclovir, intravenously.
Due to the late diagnosis and the delays in reaching a diagnosis, the attending physical and a nurse assistant decided to personally undertake the IV hook up to Becky. This turned out to be hazardous since Becky was still delirious and put a fight. After a struggle, and late that night, Becky was finally being correctly treated. The nurse who helped with the IV was only bitten once.
Becky survived and regained consciousness due to the prompt action of her doctor. However, it would take several years to fully recover.
To assist in her recovery, I turned to tennis as an activity to (hopefully) help her regain confidence in her body. For a year I could only get her on the court for an hour before she would have debilitating head aches.
For three more years I would drag her from one pro to the next to see if I could get her to a skill level that she would begin to have confidence in her body again. Occasionally, there would be a glimmer of hope but it would quickly fade. During this time there were several pros who provided support and could get her skill levels up for a short time, but the skill she gained would always disappear.
Finally, it became clear that I would have to undertake a more detailed study of how to convey tennis skills to Becky if they were to "stick". The problem was I did not know much myself. But my choices were to either give up on Becky, or go forward. The choice was simple. We went forward.
I began to undertake a scientific approach to analyzing strokes since this was our background. To my surprise, this was no simple matter. The way the human brain is constructed posed a significant barrier to experimentation. This forced me into making conjectures and testing them out. Becky was the willing and eager guinea pig in the experiments.
So we began with the process of hypothesis testing. There were many false starts and often we both thought we would loose our minds fighting this up hill battle. This was a humbling experience as we to work together as husband and wife ( a tough way to learn) because no one else could help us, and we could not afford to give up.
Through this terrible ordeal of learning, Becky fought tooth and nail to improve and reclaim confidence in her body. I will always remember one particular winter training session at the Van der Meer Academy in Hilton Head. It was an exceptionally cold winter at Hilton Head. We had settled on the hypothesis that Becky must build up her stamina and leg strength to improve and this was our objective. It was at night, it was raining heavily and the wind was blowing. The court had a roof, but no sides. She was drilling by running from side to side hitting a forehand and then a backhand. She would do sets of five, then seven, then nine, and so on until she reached over twenty. She was pushing herself so hard I began to wonder if we had completely lost our minds to be doing this at any age, much less at age 36. It was clear to me that she would stop at nothing to recover her physical ability. I was personally frightened that I would lose her, but she would not stop.
Also, during this period, as a personal challenge, Becky had decided to begin playing local tournaments. She got rated as an NTRP 3.5 in 1998, but was unsatisfied with her goals. She decided to set them higher than local amateur tournaments, her conjecture being that she must set her sites very high to have any hope of achieving her goals. So she entered national USTA amateur tournaments where she lost easily.
As another approach we went to the Advanta qualifying when the tournament was still played in Philadelphia. From this experience, she decided she wanted to hit like the players she saw there, so maybe by being around them she would learn. Why not? It seemed absurd in some respects that even though she was loosing, she decided to shoot for the stars. We entered the Hilton Head ITF/WTA $10K Satellite and took off. Nothing changed, however.
She suffered through one disappointment after another, until the Baltimore $10K. She won the first round in one hundred degree temperatures that took three hours. She won on sheer guts and intellect, but it was unrepeatable.
Many months later she played the Hopewell Junction $25K Challenger where she won a first round match, again on sheer guts and determination, but could not repeat her feat in the second round. Another series of disappointments ensued until the Midlothian $25K where she won another first round match on guts and intellect. But it was not repeatable in the second round.
To our disappointment, the strength hypothesis proved to be false and we were back at square one. I was personally at a loss. Every hypothesis I had made and tested proved false. I needed better information: Video.
Video proved invaluable in that it began providing good scientific data to work from. But ordinary video was still insufficient. Kate Mills, now one of our EASI Tennis pros, brought to my attention the TennisONE website as a source of high speed video. It was worth a try since I was running out of options, and time as I saw it.
I obtained all the data from TennisONE and John Yandell's group I could get and began analyzing it. Becky and I suspended tournaments and concentrated on getting the information right. With some luck and a lot of effort, we began to get it right as demonstrated by the fact that Becky began to reproduce her skill for the first time on her own. At last the skills became her property, and not that of some coach--myself included.
As we practiced at public courts, people began stopping to watch her. Some would come up to me and say how dramatically she had advanced in so short a time (her major advancement spanned less than one year). I would try to explain to them that I did very little compared to the enormous sacrifice she made to finally to be able to hit at a professional level two days in a row, but no one could really understand this without having been there.
When I think back over the past seven years, I wonder at how someone could be so determined to reclaim their body from a potentially deadly illness that they would stop at nothing, and that no amount of pain or sacrifice could hold them back from achieving this goal. I don't know if I could have done this. But Becky is truly a beacon of hope and a profound statement of the true power of the human spirit.
From this painful and sometimes seemingly hopeless ordeal we discovered that to learn to hit like the pros in a short period of time you need good information. And if you have this information, an average player can excel to new heights never before imagined.
But Becky taught me a more eternal lesson: The true importance and meaning of the human spirit can be seen in its ability to overcome misfortune, adversity, and tragedy.
Becky Brown, M.S.
Ms Brown received her M.S. in applied mathematics from Johns Hopkins University and has over eighteen years experience in the development of high technology defense systems ranging from digital signal processing to embedded software systems for satellite guidance, navigation, and control. Prior to the inception of the neuroscience research with her husband, Ms. Brown had no previous high school, college or professional experience in tennis. Based on using the new training methods from their joint research, Ms Brown went from a USTA NTRP tennis rating of 3.5 to a professional world ranking of 1,069 in less than four years. Ms. Brown has several referred publications in nonlinear mathematics, chaos, and signal processing and has co-authored numerous articles on tennis training and coaching.
"On the Solution of Iterated and Duplication Equations", Brown, B., Brown, R., and Shlesinger, M., J. Stat. Physics, 2002
“Hyperbolic Pattern Detection Using the Hough and Fourier Transforms”, Popp, B., Proceedings of the IASTED International Conference on Signal and Image Processing, 1995)
Using the Hough transform and the Fourier Transform to Detect Broadband Multipath Interference Patterns in Lofargrams, Popp, B., NRL/MR/5580--93-7426, Naval Research Laboratory, 1993
“Is Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions Nature’s Sensory Device?”, Brown, R., Chua, L., and Popp, B., International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, Vol 2, No. 1, March 1992
Interesting story - but the comments on her wins are hilarious if you know the background of her opponents.
"She suffered through one disappointment after another, until the Baltimore $10K. She won the first round in one hundred degree temperatures that took three hours. She won on sheer guts and intellect, but it was unrepeatable."
That was against Venus Welch - who was 53 years old at that time.
That it was a grueling match might be true though. It ended 6-2 1-6 7-5 and Becky withdrew from her next match.
"Many months later she played the Hopewell Junction $25K Challenger where she won a first round match, again on sheer guts and determination, but could not repeat her feat in the second round."
She won 3-6 6-2 7-6 (4) against the relatively unknown bagel-girl Jacquelyn Litvack.
No, she could not repeat her feat in the 2nd round. Kim Grant handed her a double-bagel.
"Another series of disappointments ensued until the Midlothian $25K where she won another first round match on guts and intellect. But it was not repeatable in the second round."
6-3 6-2 against Nancy. IMO Becky's guts and intellect were only some of the reasons for her win. Nancy's backhand (and most of her other shots) would be another one.
And again a double-bagel followed in the next round.
And what about that advancement she has made with the new technology ? Her two matches this don't really reflect that.