Earlier today I found out that one of my former tennis partners, Ed, passed away. While I was at a conference (more on that in a future blog entry), a presenter made a comment that reminded me of Ed, so I took out my phone and googled his name thinking that perhaps I would find his Facebook page. Instead, I found his obituary.
When I was in the process of making my second of two comebacks following my initial back operation, Ed was one of a small handful of players who were gracious enough to help me integrate into the local tennis community. My game at that point was covered in rust and I would not have blamed Ed for distancing himself from me, but instead he invited me to become a regular in his twice-weekly games. He and I played doubles together on Wednesday and Sunday nights for years. No matter who won, we always had fun. Those nights comprise some of my favorite tennis memories.
Tennis aside, Ed had a greater influence on my life than he ever realized. In fact, I mentioned Ed in passing in a previous blog entry. Out of everybody I played tennis with, Ed was probably the skinniest. He also happened to be, at least to my knowledge, one of the sickest. He suffered a mild heart attack soon after we began playing together and I came to find out he was also diabetic. He later died of cancer.
Like many people in our society, I held a weight bias without even realizing it. How could a man so lean have diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Aren’t those conditions reserved for obese people? When Ed revealed his conditions to me, I had to reconsider the stereotypes I was holding, the first step of which was to acknowledge that they were, indeed, stereotypes.
My mind opened: Weight does not equal health. This notion has since been further compounded by many sources, including formal schooling, clinical experiences, research, and collaboration with colleagues.
But while many other influences came after him, Ed planted the seed, and I owe him a great deal of gratitude for that. Whenever I help someone shift away from weight stigma or I hit an unreturnable lob over my opponent’s head, I will be sure to remember Ed and say a quiet thanks for all that he taught me.