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Elmer Gau: Overcoming All Obstacles

May 19, 2008 09:30 AM

In a sport with love as one of the scores, it is inevitable to uncover inspiring, life-affirming stories. Over the next five days, Tennismonth.com will feature five uplifting and inspiring stories. The first is a husband-wife tale of a shared diagnosis and boundless determination. Two others prove the depths of devotion possible when one partner – whether on the court or in life – is plagued by an organ failure. Another is about how tennis allowed one women to get her life back. The final story is how one man’s talent at his job translates to success on the courts. Please be sure to check back each morning this week to read another inspirational story.

By Holly Goddard

Elmer Gau of Matthews, N.C., defines the word inspiration. To sit down and talk with him is to know that you are in the presence of a true gentleman. His warm smile, gentle demeanor and bright optimism have helped carry him through the last two years since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“Parkinson’s hasn’t slowed me down that much. I still go out and hit a bucket of balls and play tennis in the heat of the day. I have to be in better condition than the other guy,” said Elmer, whose symptoms – chiefly sleeplessness and tremors in his left hand – are significantly managed by prescription medication.

It is medication, incredibly enough, for which there are two prescriptions in the Gau household. That’s because six months ago, Elmer’s wife, Mary, was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The Gaus are united in battling the disease, just as they have been unified in their love of tennis for nearly four decades.

In 1970, after deciding they weren’t getting enough exercise from their softball league, the Gaus picked up racquets and became hooked on the game. Thirty-seven years later, both Elmer and Mary have competed in USTA League National Championships. In 1998, Mary participated in the Senior Women’s 3.5 USTA League National Championships, and Elmer’s senior men’s 4.0 team took second place at the National Championships in 2002.

Although Elmer is determined to stay physically active, he had to drop down to the senior men’s 3.5 division – and not because of Parkinson’s, either. Another challenge he’s working to overcome for the sake of tennis is knee surgery; he had his third operation last August.

“They put a new knee in, and it is working great,” said Gau.

Elmer is back to playing tennis almost every day from noon until 2 p.m. in a relentless effort to stay in peak condition. He also competes in a Wednesday night round robin, mixed doubles, combo doubles and super seniors league. His super seniors team has a USTA Southern Sectional title under its belt, and his senior men’s 3.5 team finished a respectable third at the USTA Southern League Sectional Championships.

Not only is Elmer the driving force behind the team, he is their inspiration, and this group of close friends supports each other on and off the court.

“It is amazing to me what Elmer does. He’s just as tough as they come,” said teammate, Jim Nance. “We all just kind of sit back and are awestruck with what Elmer has been able to do. It has just been an inspiration, how he has overcome all of his obstacles.”




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