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Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything And Won Back My Life [Hardcover]

James Blake

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Book Description

July 5 2007

In 2004, James Blake's life was getting more perfect by the day. A rising tennis star, with each passing year his game seemed to improve. In 2002, he was named Sexiest Male Athlete by People, and along the way he continued to gain in the rankings and earn respect on the court. Each day seemed to offer a new milestone, a new achievement; he was leading a charmed life and loving every minute of the ride.

But that life came to an abrupt halt in May 2004 when Blake broke his back in a freak accident on the court. A few months later, as Blake was recovering from his injury, he suffered another tremendous setback when his father–the man who had raised him and provided the inspiration for his tennis career–lost his battle with stomach cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Blake's situation was further complicated when he contracted Zoster, a rare virus that paralyzed half of his face and threatened to end his already jeopardized tennis career.

Breaking Back tells the story of the tumultous year that followed these three devastating events, detailing how Blake persevered through hardship to become one of the best tennis players in the world. Here Blake explains how the wisdom and words that his father imparted to him over the years gave him the ability to succeed in the face of these seemingly insurmountable odds. Though these trials proved the most difficult of his life, ultimately this trifecta of tragedy became the culmination of all his father's lessons, showing Blake that even in death, his father was still teaching him how to be a man.

In the spirit of Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking comes this remarkable tale of strength and determination from one of tennis's biggest stars. A story of passion, willpower, and the unbreakable bonds between a father and a son, Breaking Back is one athlete's account of finding hope in the bleakest of times.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (July 5 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061343498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061343490
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 15.9 x 23.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #614,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprah and The Tonight Show, shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort. At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“The grace and dignity that James has shown during some very difficult times has been a source of great inspiration.” (Andre Agassi)

“Blake is a champion—in every sense of the word.” (Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue)

“I’ve known James since early childhood...James’s rise to international success is as stunning as it was predictable.” (John Mayer)

“Through Blake’s commitment and passion, he tells the story of the life lessons he learned while facing difficult personal challenges.” (—Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe)

“[James Blake] has inspired young people everywhere with his story of courage and determination.” (—former president George H.W. Bush)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  48 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-wrenching...and heart-warming story July 11 2007
By Michael Lee Stallard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although I don't know James Blake, I met him very briefly in New York City years ago at the Harlem Tennis Center. I also met his father Thomas at that time who impressed me with his warmth and generosity of spirit. When I heard the news that Thomas Blake had died in 2004, I knew from meeting him that it would be a devastating loss for all who knew this wonderful man. And because my wife was battling cancer at that time and, like Thomas Blake, also being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, I could relate to what Thomas Blake, his family and friends experienced.

So often in life, good things bloom from the seeds of hardship. Breaking Back by James Blake is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story about how life's trials shaped the character of a remarkable young man. The wisdom of Thomas Blake and his son James' self-reflection reminded me of the relationship the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had with his father Joshua. The wisdom and friendship of Blake's philosopher-coach Brian Barker reminded me of the relationship John Wooden had with his players. The dedicated, supporting and steady presence of James' mother Betty Blake is a subtle theme throughout the book. I also loved Blake's affection for his friends and how they rallied around him in his time of need. When my wife had cancer, we experienced first hand how much the support of family and friends can help you make it through difficult seasons in life. I attribute my wife's recovery in part to the support we received just as James credits his friends and family for helping him through the difficult times he has faced.

Another Amazon reviewer of Breaking Back argues that Blake's philosophy of focusing on continuous improvement and achieving his personal best will prevent him from being a great tennis player. I disagree with that view. Blake's philosophy is the same as John Wooden's whose basketball hall of fame biography states that with ten national championships and four perfect seasons Wooden "achieved a record that no coach in any sport may ever surpass." Wooden achieved that record with a relentless pursuit of becoming his personal best while being a good human being. Wooden told his players that in his eyes a winner is someone who achieves the satisfaction of knowing they always gave their personal best effort. As Wooden said "you can win and not be a winner and you can be a winner and not win." In the eyes of those who value the content of character above fame a fortune, James Blake is a winner in every sense of the word. He's a role model whose story more young people need to hear.

I'll be reading this book to my two teenage daughters and giving copies to some of their friends. It will sit in my library alongside the inspiring stories about people who developed strength of character such as Mornings on Horseback about Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln's Virtues about Abraham Lincoln, and My Personal Best about John Wooden. For those who are interested in stories about people like James Blake with strength of character and how they inspire the people around them, you might enjoy our just-released book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team's Passion, Creativity, and Productivity
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The comeback kid from Connecticut July 29 2007
By Jon Hunt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Maybe it's because I grew up in a Connecticut town just a few miles away from James Blake's hometown of Fairfield or that James is one of the most exciting tennis players to watch play a match....whatever the case, James has written a compelling memoir about the trials and travails of his recent life only to see him experience a renaissance in personal growth both on and off the court. "Breaking Back" is the story of James Blake's triumphs over adversity and it is one fine read.

As James says, a tennis match is not unlike life, itself. It's packed with victories and losses and all the drama that accompanies it. For James, a serious neck injury, the death of his father and being diagnosed with zoster (or "shingles") all in one year would drive anyone underground for a time. On top of all of that, James reveals he was born with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and had to wear a back brace for years. James is lucky, though, to come from a close, loving family, have a coach, Brian Barker, (who is as much a mentor as anything else) and have dozens of friends who support him in his darkest hours. They form the basis of J-Block, the chief rooting section for James. Shining above anything or anyone else, though, is his dad. Thomas's fatherly advice is well-taken by the young tennis pro and it serves him well as he struggles with his own illnesses and some of the psychological barriers that hold him back on the court. He refers to his Dad as "Superman" and the elder Blake's death from cancer is the harshest blow for James.

This book plumbs the depths of an inner life filled with joy and sorrow but the great news is the rebirth of James Blake. And the ways he comes roaring back onto the court and takes control again over his own life make this book a fascinating look at one of the outstanding tennis players of our day and one of an inspirational young man who happens to play it. James's creed is "get better" and he does step by step and day by day. He is truly the comeback kid. I highly recommend "Breaking Back" for its honesty and courage.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Fire it up one time...BAM!" Sept. 26 2007
By Sebastian Fernandez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are many cases in which professional athletes have come back from devastating injuries and personal problems to regain their place in the spotlight. However, there are only a few of these stories that are as inspiring as the case of James Blake. A series of events in 2004 changed the life of this tennis player forever. He broke his neck in a practice session, lost his father to cancer and then became ill with zoster, a stress related disease that among many drawbacks, affects equilibrium. And then, just when things could not get worse, the love of his friends and family catapulted James back to his rightful spot in the tennis world and in life.

Generally, when I read books of this kind, I cannot help feeling that the athlete is sharing only what the public expects, holding back facts that they may consider a little embarrassing. We usually see somebody struggling, but that also has a kind of bravado to face the situation. This could not be further from the truth in this case though. I felt that James is not holding anything back and is spilling his guts trying to get us to understand every detail of his struggle. Andrew Friedman definitely helps, displaying a proficient writing style and not letting the book get boring at any point.

Besides containing a fair amount of personal aspects related to the fight against adversity and the importance of friendship, this book has some very interesting insights into the mind of a tennis player. Blake shares with us the process by which he became a professional tennis player, but also what goes through the mind of a pro during a match and at the end of the year when it is time to take stock. There are many snippets of information about players on the tour and these keep us engaged and at times help lighten up the mood.

Blake is the kind of pro that plays from the heart, and you can see that passion in his storytelling too. It is no surprise that his mentor and idol is Andre Agassi, who also displays similar traits in the court. Or that Blake is amazed by the talent of Fernando Gonzalez, who plays without a safety net and goes all out in every point, looking for impossible winners. James Blake lives like this, fighting adversity and going for the break right after his serve has been broken, and he has proven he knows how to do this. Granted, he got some help along the way.

This is a story that can be appreciated by anyone. It does not matter whether you are a tennis player or not. In this regard, the author included a glossary of tennis terms to help the novice, and allow them full enjoyment. I hope that if you read this book you will love it as much as I did, and I wish James every success in his future tournaments. So far 2007 has been a pretty good year for him!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a great tennis player... Aug. 11 2007
By Stacy Tucker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I received the book the night before I was leaving for the Indianapolis Tennis Championships where James was going to be doing a book signing. I didn't get a chance to read it until the night before the signing and I thought I should actually read at least a chapter or two in case I got a chance to speak to James - I wanted to at least honestly say I had read the book. I couldn't put the book down, reading it in one sitting. I am a huge James Blake fan and I had heard all the stories about him breaking his neck, his dad dying and getting shingles a million times. But learning it from his point of view was heart-wrenching. I literally cried from pages 98-138. The book is powerful, but not heavy and filled with so many wisdoms.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST ABOUT TENNIS! Aug. 26 2007
By A. Besore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This may be a little unusual but I am writing this review before I even finished the book?
This morning I just finished Chapter 3 of "Breaking Back".
WOW - Some powerful messages - so much more than just about tennis! Of course, if you are a tennis fan and/or like James Blake you may find it even more compelling?
Chapter 3, "Requiem for a Superman" is almost too much and even had me shedding tears before I was finished with the chapter.
If you can read this chapter and not be truly affected then "you are already dead"!

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