A Day With a Palm Tree: Leylah Fernandez, World-Class Fighter

“A day with a palm tree is a great day.”

Stories of personal triumph, community engagement, and environmental stewardship.

This is the first of a new series of inspirational stories I’ll be posting as I continue my path of recovery. I hope they will inspire you to appreciate each day we are given — whether you have palm trees or pine trees or buildings outside your door, it’s a great day.

Leylah Annie Fernandez had a goal

Earlier this year, when Leylah Annie Fernandez was a little-known 18-year-old Canadian tennis player living in South Florida, she said that her goal was to be in the top ten professional women players in the world. The sport writers were skeptical.

Not anymore. She turned 19 on the day before playing for the trophy in the finals of the US Open tennis tournament, having beaten top-ranked opponents on the way to Arthur Ashe stadium, beginning with Naomi Osaka. She’s zoomed into 23rd place on the roster.

In the on-court interview after her stunning victory over Osaka, she was asked if she ever believed she could best Osaka. ”Yes,” she responded with a huge smile. ”Just before the match.”

That’s confidence.

She stepped up

There’s a lot to be said for someone like Fernandez, who has lost a lot of first and second round of matches on the WTA tour this year, producing a completely different level of tennis under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe stadium, for stepping up in close matches against a series of true champions and executing better than they did. That’s what great players do.

Dan Wolken, USA Today, September 11, 2021

Inner steel

As bubbly and engaging as she is off court, the inner steel shines through.

Simon Cambers, The Guardian, September 10, 2021

It’s steel honed by hard work. The daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and the Philippines, Fernandez moved from Montreal to my neighboring town of Boynton Beach in 2018. I assumed that the move was to permit her to train at a prestigious (and expensive) tennis academy, like Chris Evert’s school. Then I read that she trains on public courts and at the beach, and that her father, a former soccer player, is her coach.

Check out this training video, and remember that it’s hot and humid — sweat dripping off your face when you go for a walk — down here.

…a world-class fighter who walks between points with the steely determination of someone on her way to break up a bar brawl.

Christopher Clarey, The New York Times, September 12, 2021

A new bar

Fernandez didn’t win the US Open championship. That went to another brown-skinned daughter of immigrants, England’s Emma Raducanu. These multicultural, multilingual teenagers have just set a new bar for grit, resilience, and joy in the game.

While Raducanu — the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title — expressed wonderment at her unlikely win, Fernandez, whose top-100 ranking got her into the tournament, may have been tripped up by really, really being sure she would prevail. Recovering from this loss, she said during the on-court interview, would be hard. And then she added this.

I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around us. I just hope that I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.

Leylah Fernandez, September 11, 2021

Class act

Leylah Fernandez, New York strong, world-class fighter, class act. You are inspiring my continuing journey of recovery.

Travel Tuesday: Listen to the Longing for Pandemic-Prohibited Travel in this Song by Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Fresh Air, in which host Terry Gross interviews all kinds of interesting people — writers, scientists, singers, film stars. Much like the PBS NewsHour and CBS Sunday Morning, Fresh Air almost always expands my mind, enriches my brain, or opens my heart. Sometimes, it’s all three. If you are not yet a subscriber/viewer, back up and click on those links before you read any more.

Seriously, do that.

Thanks for coming back. So, one of Terry Gross’ most recent guests was Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nagasaki -born, London-raised novelist whose works include Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, and who won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.

…who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.

2017 Nobel Prize for Literature press release.

I’d not heard Ishiguro interviewed before, so was surprised by his English accent and stories of his British youth. He was a sort of celebrity child singer of church music and thought he’d be a singer-songwriter in his youth, and “voice” continues to inspire writing.

I take enormous inspiration from listening to singing voices. I love to listen to Stacey Kent, whom I write lyrics for. There’s something almost impossible to capture in words about the quality of the singing performance.

Kazuo Ishiguro speaking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air

Terry concluded the interview with Stacey Kent’s I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again, lyrics by Kazuo Ishiguro. The song is sweet and the message is one so many of us feel very deeply, thirteen months into this pandemic. I wish I could go traveling again …..

Barry Goldstuck on YouTube, lyrics and images for Stacey Kent’s “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again,” lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro.