For all the stories that are written about junior prospects who make it, there are exponentially more whose stories do not have happy endings.
We don’t hear about those nearly as much. But Alicia Black, known as “Tornado” when she was one of the top juniors in the world a few years ago, is one such story.
Four years ago, she reached the US Open junior girls’ final, losing in a third-set tiebreak to Ana Konjuh of Croatia (who reached the top 30 this year).
Three years ago this week at the Junior Fed Cup final in Mexico, she won all five of her singles matches and all three doubles matches as she led the U.S. girls to the title. She was playing smaller professional events on the ITF circuit in the U.S. And her ranking had inched close to the top 400.
How unthinkable that a young woman who just 3 1/2 years ago was the No. 3-ranked junior in the world is in a situation where she needs to ask for help to have hip surgery.
After originally ruling it out, Black set up a Go Fund Me page a little over two weeks ago.
Campaign successful; surgery on the way
The Go Fund Me campaign has been successful. In little more than two weeks, 90 per cent of the requested $40,000 was raised. Most of it comes in the form of small donations from everyday people.
Black is soliciting the money for the cost of the surgery, some $16,000. She also aimed for a slush fund so that she can properly rehab, without having to be on the court giving tennis lessons.
Update: I am going to see a couple doctors next week and I will go from there to set a date for my surgery.
— Tornado Alicia Black (@Tornadoblack98) September 22, 2017
Black already had surgery on the hip labrum two years ago. According to the New York Times, which first wrote about her two weeks ago, the pain came back.
The hip went on her again last summer and is causing her significant pain. As she was diagnosed with a pair of sports hernias, Black needs surgery again.
Only a year removed from junior eligibility, she’s on state-funded Medicaid. Black had been giving tennis lessons in Florida and is the sole source of financial support for her ill mother and her younger sister Hurricane Tyra.
The family was homeless a couple of times when Black was very young. It has not been an easy road. And at this point, the pain from her hip is affecting her ability even to make a modest living.
The Medicaid plan will not fund the surgery.
It’s a shame that the USTA, which she represented as a successful junior as she played for her country, doesn’t have some sort of contingency fund. You would think there have to be more such cases. But so far, they have not weighed in.
Sole family provider
Sister Hurricane, 16, is a promising junior. Currently at a career-best No. 55 in the ITF rankings, the travel required is significant – as you can see by the places she’s been this season.
Black is trying to help finance her sister’s travel, as well. It’s a lot. The family has has crowdfunded before, for training. And Black turned pro at age 13, lured by money from the likes of Nike and Head – basically out of necessity.
All of that, obviously, is long gone now. Sponsors aren’t it in for humanitarian purposes.
Black told Danielle Rossingh of CNN that she sometimes spent up to 10 hours a day on the court when she was a rising young star. And that she was pushed too way too hard while she was still growing. It’s not a big leap to go from that, to having such major physical issues at such a young age.
But with so much at stake, so much on her plate, how could she have done otherwise but push it to the very limit?
Will there be a happy ending?
The story could still have a happy ending. But Black is going to need more help.
To train to get back up to a professional level requires time and money, coaching and travel funds, help from a physio and a trainer. Being the sole source of family support complicates matters quite a bit.
There was a message left on the Go Fund Me page, asking Black to call a Rhode Island man named Alan G. Hassenfeld. Hassenfeld, now retired, is the former CEO of his family’s company, Hasbro toys. The family has contributed to many humanitarian causes – especially in the area of children’s health. That’s a natural fit.
Perhaps, if not Hassenfeld, Black can find a knight in shining armor to give her the break she needs. She certainly deserves it.
And then, perhaps, she can return and make her Twitter biography reality again.