The long anticipated tennis rematch had finally arrived. Yogi versus Eric: part II. At a quarter past 4 on Saturday April 4th, 2015, Yogi and I walked onto court 1 of the Rivera Tennis Club, Pacific Palisades, CA, for what was sure to be a battle to end all battles – unless we were to lose of course. And ten minutes into the match down 0-3, it was starting to look as though there might have to be a third match before Yogi is to be victorious. The point play was action-packed and filled with highlight reel quality shots, but between points the three native Germans were able trash-talk each other in their native tongue – or compliment me, I can never be sure. Eric and his doubles partner Phillip, a UCLA graduate, were able to just squeak out the win, finishing with a score of a highly contested 6-0, 6-0 match. Upon completion of the match, I was able to hit around with Eric for a period of time. Although he is a man of dominating presence and fame, he struck me remarkably human. Never at any point throughout out hitting session did I feel he was looking at me with anything but mutual respect; if anything I believe Eric was actually looking up to me. To have a man as powerful and famous as Eric Braeden (e.g. John Jacob Astor in Titanic) respect my talents and appreciate my time in a genuine fashion meant the world to me. I have not personally met a person who I would consider to be famous – until now –, but I doubt any stars I meet in the future will be as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. It reminds me of the things that truly matter in life: not a big house or fancy cars, but people. The relationships that one forms with others are the things that have a lasting impact upon more than just oneself. I have no doubt I have taken a step in the right direction toward creating life-long friendships with both Eric and Yogi: My friends from northern Germany.
I met Yogi at a tennis doubles clinic in the basement of the Skoglund Field House T, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN, in the closing months of 2014. Being a member of the Saint Olaf tennis team, I was one of the instructors assigned to teach a court of doubles; little did I know that I was about to form a friendship that would propel a remarkable journey leading half way across the country to go and meet a movie star. Upon completion of the clinic Yogi was quick to inform me that he enjoyed my teaching style and passion for the game we both cherish: a compliment I accepted with pride coming from a retired college professor. After sharing some initial details about our lives we discovered a mutual love for not only the game of tennis, but for history, neuroscience and conducting research. Yogi gave me his business card as an opportunity to conduct research together: an opportunity to learn from my student.
Unfortunately, we met at a hectic time for me in my first semester experience of junior year: a time filled with papers and exams, which did not allow me the leisure time to begin another research project. But a few weeks later, after a round of midterms, I found Yogi’s business card on my desk and decided to take a chance. Within a week of emailing him for the first time, we had planned a lunch to discuss our future together as a research team. Yogi, being a freelance historian, was working on multiple projects at the time, but the one that could my eye was a project about post World War II work camp diaries and the rich story that went along with them. Yogi and a few dedicated college students were able to translate the Barbour diaries – belonging to the parents of current Saint Olaf professor John Barbour – into German such that we could create a bilingual story about personal experiences in work camps just after WWII. Helping with the layout design of the novel, I knew Yogi and I were going to be able to accomplish much together in the future.
Having known Yogi for only a few months, his invitation to play tennis in California with a Hollywood star friend of his was startling at first. But the more and more we were able to discuss its possibility, the more comfortable and excited I became. One day I received an email from Yogi saying that he had talked to Eric Braeden and we would be able to fly out to California at the end of my spring break to play in Hollywood. And that’s exactly what we chose to do. We would fly out on a Friday, play tennis on Saturday and return to Minnesota on Sunday. We met up on Thursday night to have one last practice before our big match and to test the recording equipment – this was to be used to record our seemingly inevitable triumph and I only realized at this moment we forgot to record the match. We were feeling confident, we were feeling excited and we were feeling ready for the trip of a lifetime – who goes all the way across the country to play one tennis match and then flies home? That sounds like a unique trip to me. After having lunch with and receiving love from Yogi’s wife Gitta, we departed for the Minneapolis airport. After parking our car, we boarded a shuttle only to find my middle school physical education teacher on his way to start his vacation in Florida!
Yogi and I have no problems catching our plane from Minneapolis to Los Angeles; we even had time to meet a few new people along the way. I remember taking off on our way to LAX, and it was funny that the second the plane began to gain speed on the runway was the first time I registered our trip was actually happening. One of the best characteristics I can say about Yogi is his dreaming attitude. He is constantly coming up with projects and plans that would be interesting to research or fun to partake. But this was the moment that it hit me: we are doing this. We are taking his dreams and making them realities. This once again opened my mind to the possibilities of all that we may be able to accomplish together. I have been blessed to be friends with one who isn’t afraid of rejection, someone who isn’t afraid to dream big and to put his name out on the line. In this sense, Yogi has taught me more about the importance and application of networking than days upon days staring at my social media sights ever have: a subject he has mastered and one which I still have much to learn. It’s always funny to recall our relationship started with me being the teacher, while now I am often the one learning. But much like the computer work on the Barbour diaries, (German student work camps, 1948), I have been able to teach Yogi about electronics, most often on layovers, and important computer or smartphone shortcuts, which have hopefully had an impact on his quality of life – or at least cut down on his technological frustrations. Reaching LAX airport safely, I am recalling walking off the plane, shaking Yogi’s hand and saying, “We made it!”