Reviewed by Randi O’Hare, London ON
I love reading about real people’s lives—somehow, in reading about their experiences, I feel even more human. I feel more connected to the human race, and less alone in my own struggles through life. Reading the life stories of celebrities reminds us that they are human too. This autobiography is no exception.
Monica Seles, as many people know, was a star tennis player from Yugoslavia. She discovered tennis at an extremely young age, and to say that she had a knack for it was an understatement. With her father as her coach throughout most of her career, she became the #1 ranked female tennis player in the world at the tender age of 19. Then, in 1993 at a match in Hamburg Germany, Monica’s life was forever changed…or, as the chapter where she describes what happened suggests, was forever ‘derailed’. A crazed fan of German player Steffi Graf’s stabbed Monica in the upper back, in an attempt to knock her out of the running and get Steffi into the position of #1 ranked female player. Around the same time, Monica’s beloved father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
What many people don’t know is that that tragic spring day in 1993 marked the beginning of a downward spiral into depression and binge eating for Monica. To add insult to injury, the man who stabbed her received a sentence equivalent to 2 years probation..not even jail time! With tennis suddenly gone from her life while she recovered, and not knowing how to manage her overwhelming emotions, she turned to food for comfort. Engaging in gruelling workouts and training sessions during the day, she’d gorge herself on high calorie snacks and sweets at night. The extra weight she gained put her at risk for various injuries, and made her return to tennis difficult. Tennis had been a part of her life since she was about 6 years old. She eventually realized she needed to learn how to live without tennis in her life, and in 2003, she decided to try something new: Instead of focussing so much on diets, exercise and what she was eating, she decided to start dealing with ‘what was eating me’. She finally started dealing with her grief over losing tennis and her father, and began to pay attention to what her quiet inner voice was telling her she needed: fun, solace and to stop pressuring herself. She reconnected with old friends, took up fun new hobbies (bungee jumping..yikes!!), and travelled for fun. Even more amazing? Without hardly even trying, the extra weight she’d been fighting for YEARS to lose just melted away.
Here is one of my favourite segments of the book, in which Monica describes being in an underwater cage watching a great white shark: “All I could hear was the sound of my respirator, and all i could see was this terrifying and beautiful animal that could end my life in two seconds if it wanted to. This is life, I thought. Right now, and now , and now….I am living right this very second. The entire dive wasn’t longer than thirty minutes, but when I resurfaced I felt like I’d taken an extended trip to another universe. For the rest of the day I felt as if a gentle buzz of energy surrounded me . I wasn’t just living life—I was feeling it. The sun seemed brighter, the ocean smelled stronger, and every noise was amplified. It was like life as I knew it had been a two and it was now cranked up to an eight. Everything seemed more real and I wanted to experience all of it. The life I was creating for myself was turning out to be anything but small.” (p. 275).
“Getting a Grip” teaches a powerful life lesson, one that Monica learned slowly and painfully: once we learn to just let go, and stop controlling so much, and deal with our emotional baggage…we will be free and experience a happiness beyond anything we have ever known.