Cancer survivor Ashley Hendrick draws strength from tennis

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About a year ago, I wrote a column for Tennis magazine about Ashley Hendrick, then a top high school player in Grand Rapids, Mich. In the summer of 2006, she struggled with her game because of a sharp pain in her leg. She figured it was the result of overplaying. In fact, she was suffering from osteosarcoma, a potentially fatal form of bone cancer.

One day, Ashley had the typical teenage concerns -- school, boys, MySpace, a planned trip to the U.S. Open. The next day, her hair started falling out from the first of her 18 chemotherapy sessions. A few weeks into her treatment, doctors informed her that they could reduce the risk of the cancer spreading by amputating her left leg above the knee.

The support was overwhelming. Ashley's teammates visited her in the hospital and prepared meals for the Hendrick family. The family's tennis club, Orchard Hills, held a charity tournament that raised more than $25,000 and included a silent auction with memorobilia donated by Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova, among others. The Pepperdine men's team dedicated a match to Ashley and her recovery. ATP and WTA tournament directors, some as far away as Dubai, sent boxes of souvenirs. Billie Jean King and Bob and Mike Bryan sent inspirational notes. Lleyton Hewitt followed Ashley's status on (keyword: "AshleyHendrick") and was so moved he invited her to sit in his box and then join him for dinner at an upcoming tournament.

Pitted against Ashley's passion for tennis, the cancer didn't stand a chance. Even confined to a wheelchair, she hit tennis balls. When she was fitted for a prosthetic leg, she had to learn how to "re-walk." After she mastered that, she learned how to "re-hit." After a clean test result, Ashley returned to her high school tennis team for a season before graduating in 2008.

A number of you have asked about Ashley from time to time. I got a recent e-mail from her father, Jerry, that he's happy to let me share:

Since your last e-mail, Ashley has continued playing the game she loves, and [in mid-July] she and I participated in a charity tennis tournament I have run for the past 18 years called the Hall of Fame Classic. Ashley and I played Mixed B Doubles, and made it to the semifinals before we had to withdraw from the tournament. Ashley had also played Women's B Doubles and, between these two divisions, spent almost seven hours playing four matches on [one day]. By [the next] morning, her leg was in too much pain to play anymore, so we had to withdraw. It was great fun nonetheless to be back on the court with her again. It was the first time we have played doubles together since before she was sick.

I thought you might be interested to know that Ashley has decided to transfer to Aquinas College this fall where she will be playing tennis on their varsity team. The Aquinas coach has offered Ashley a small athletic scholarship, which she has accepted. We are all very excited to watch her play again.

One other thing: Every year we donate all of the proceeds from our tournament to a local worthy cause. This year we gave all of our money to PORT (Pediatric Oncology Resource Team), which operates within DeVos Children's Hospital, helping families who have a child with cancer. We will be presenting this organization with a check for $2,700. Some of this money was also raised through a small auction that was run alongside our tournament. This auction consisted of items sent to us from various tournaments and players around the world. It was similar to the one we had for my family in 2007, just on a much smaller scale. Believe it or not, there are still some "tennis people" from around the world who follow our family's ongoing progress. Lleyton Hewitt's camp, in particular, has remained in contact with us. Very cool. (Lleyton has once again invited our family to sit with his for his matches. While we probably will not be able to take him up on this offer, we will be cheering for him and our other "friends" from our home in Grand Rapids.)

Just wanted you to know that Ashley continues to do well in her life as a cancer survivor. Though she still has three more years to go before they will let us call her "cured," we know that day is coming. In the meantime, she continues to work on her game and we continue to post updates on her CarePage Web site.

Anyway, please share any part of Ashley's story in any way you like. It has always been our desire to let her cancer experience serve as an encouragment and inspiration for others. It's great when something good can come out of something "bad," eh?

Take care.

Jerry Hendrick