Friday, April 16, 2021

Never Let Your Guard Down


Just a day after Irma’s fury, hurricane-weary residents were greeted by this rainbow over Marco Island. Photo by Wayne Clark

Just a day after Irma’s fury, hurricane-weary residents were greeted by this rainbow over Marco Island. Photo by Wayne Clark

Spending the majority of my adult life as a professional coach and competitive tennis player, I tend to view every challenge in my life, whether it be small or large, as an athletic competition.

I like to have a game plan, with at least one, if not several back up strategies/ plans, for even the most mundane and simple challenges that I face on a daily basis.

In my last article “Competing Against Mother Nature,” I attempted to anticipate the effects of hurricanes and how to compete against them. At that point in time, I did not realize that we would be taking a direct hit from Hurricane Irma!



Battling a hurricane like Irma is like being a qualifier, competing against a top seeded player, in a final match, on Centre Court at Wimbledon. We are playing against a very formidable opponent and we probably feel, from all of the pregame hype thrown at us by the media, that the odds are not necessarily going to be in our favor.

However, in review, we have competed and fought against a top contender and we are victorious! We are all now members of a unique club. I’ll call it “The Big Cat Club.” Membership is easily defined. You must have experienced and recovered from a major category hurricane. If you can include yourself in this club, you have learned how to prepare for, evacuate, or ride out a storm, and recover from such an event. We are… A club of fighters! A club of survivors! A club of champions!

The eye of Irma passed directly over Marco Island.

The eye of Irma passed directly over Marco Island.

I have now lived through my fifth major hurricane. This one, I feel, has been more challenging than all the others combined.

I have discovered many things; some of which I knew before, and many of which have been newly discovered and which I was previously unaware of.

Number one and most important, is to never let your guard down and don’t ever underestimate your opponent. The only consistent fact of any approaching hurricane, is that the storm can and will, (up to the very last minute), be very inconsistent.

As bad as the damage from the storm was and as challenging as the recovery has been, all things considered, I consider myself/all of us fortunate. It was estimated that if Irma had tracked just 15 to 20 miles west and stayed in the Gulf, that things would have been much worse, because the back side of the storm would have strengthened and we would have experience truly major catastrophic storm surge.

I live on the Isles of Capri, and the storm surge came to within 1/4 inch of entering my house. My neighbors, who are less than half a block away, had a foot of water in their house.

When the storm struck on the south tip of Marco, our little island took a punch from; as well as taking the punch out of Irma.

There truly is something special about Marco Island and it’s location in regards to hurricanes. The Calusa Indians understood this fact and utilized it as a safe haven against the wrath of Mother Nature for centuries, long before we ever knew it was even here.

I have discovered/rediscovered, that just like playing in a big important tennis match, where the emotional stress of competing is as much of, if not more of a challenge than the actual physical aspects of competition itself; preparing for and competing against a storm like Irma (or any hurricane) was both a physical and emotional challenge for all of us.

Whenever I am preparing for a big important tennis match, I have a routine that I follow. I review all of the different strategies and game plans I have planned for my opponent and I try to keep my emotions and nerves from getting the best of me.

I found myself going through this same routine in preparing for my match against Irma. I originally was planning on riding out the storm, in what I felt, was, and which I now know, is a storm survivable house on Marco.

However, due to the of the inconsistency of hurricanes, I had to change that plan, and I have already decided, that if and when, I have to face another opponent/hurricane, even though I know I have a storm survivable location, which I could utilize to ride out the storm, I will, at that point in time, analyze my new opponent and make a sound strategic decision on my options on how to compete in that challenge.

But, back to my match against Irma. Wednesday, September 6th, game on!

With the track of Irma still a mystery, but with the threat of possible storm surge, I decide to take all of my important, irreplaceable, sentimental belongings and move them to my storage unit on the second floor of Rizzi Storage.

I had successfully completed all of the preparations, needed to be ready for the storm and at this point, I figure I am still in the early stages/first set, of a five set match. Friday and Saturday the 8th and 9th.

I had successfully completed all of the preparations needed to be ready for the storm, and at this point, I figure I am still in the early stages/first set, of a five set match.

As the storm was approaching, and the new projected path had Irma now tracking right over Marco, I tossed and turned all night, reviewing and reconsidering my strategies, game plans and options.

I made a decision at 5 AM, Saturday morning, to evacuate and head to Orlando and stay with friends, whom I had evacuated and stayed with back when Wilma struck Marco.

Upon my arrival in Orlando, I found myself back in the beginning stages of hurricane prep, helping my friends to board up windows, etc. I now realized that this was going to be a longer and more challenging first set than I had initially anticipated, but I finally convinced myself that I/we had won the first set, because we were all as prepared and ready for Irma, as we could possibly be.

So now on to the second set; actually riding out the storm. Sunday the 10th.

I was watching on TV as the eye wall was striking the south tip of Marco Island. Later that day we realized that Irma was now headed for us in Orlando! We spent the night riding out the storm and experienced several tornadoes, which downed many of the large oak trees in the area. Monday the 11th.

As we awoke the next morning and the clouds were beginning to clear, I saw a full rainbow appear in the sky. Mother Nature had surprised me once again, proving that despite the fact that just hours before she was displaying her fury and destruction, she could immediately turn around and show how peaceful and beautiful she could be.

Ok, so I have survived the storm and I feel that I am now up two sets to love against Irma.

I desperately wanted to return to Marco as soon as possible, but because of all the downed trees on the roads, I was unable to get out of the area and on the interstate, until Tuesday the 12th.

Upon my return to Capri/Marco, I came to the realization that I am not going win this match in straight sets! Cleanup and recovery, for all of us, was going to be a long, hard challenge.

It is now September 21st, ten days since the storm struck and ten days facing the challenges of cleanup and recovery. At this point, I feel that this has cost me two sets and I am now finding myself facing a final and deciding fifth set against Irma.

This fifth set, will challenge my strength and endurance, to somehow gain victory over my opponent and return to a normal life.

The City of Marco Island Parks and Recreation did a great job getting the MIRC cleaned up and open for play, so as soon as I possibly could, I offered my afternoon youth programming for the kids. I felt, that I needed to help put some sense of normalcy back into their lives. Yet, what I discovered, was that for myself, being out on the court with the kids, presented a sense of normalcy in my life, that I was desperately in need of.

This feeling of normalcy was the final break of serve against Irma, which I needed to honestly believe I had won the match! However, even though I feel that I/we have won this match in the fifth set; the emotional challenge of convincing myself of a final victory over Irma, will continue to be an ongoing battle.

I believe, that it is the simple daily routines that will get our lives back on track. The enjoyable little things, like my getting back out on the court with the kids, or going to the barber shop and getting my haircut. All of these simple little occurrences, which we tend to take for granted, (until they are taken away from us) are what keeps us on track and sane, day in and day out.

With that said, I would like to make special mention of the early morning radio talk show, The Dave Elliott Show, on FM 98.9 WGUF. I have listened to Dave and Steve for years, it is part of my regular daily morning routine; and for the period of time in which most of us were without internet, cable TV or cell phone connections, it was comforting to get local news and recovery updates by the old school method of broadcast radio.

My/our challenge now is to remain vigilant and be even better prepared in our strategies and game plans to compete in the next big match, which we will someday, most likely, (like it or not), have to play against Mother Nature.

My lifetime/career match play stats show that I am now 5 and 0, against Mother Nature and that I average having to compete against a major hurricane once every twelve years. (Coincidentally, 12 years is the exact amount of time since Hurricane Wilma.)

I guess it is the price I pay for living my entire life on the Gulf Coast.

As I said before in my last article, “Competing Against Mother Nature,” hurricanes are a fact of life, and they are something we must always respect and be aware of. Hurricanes have been around for thousands of years and hurricane season is going to continue to be a threatening and challenging opponent for all of us to have to compete against.

Once again, I remind you, that the number one and most important thing to remember is to never let your guard down and don’t ever underestimate your opponent.

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.

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