Jordyn Applebaum revisited an old chapter in her life this season, after years of grief pushed her away from the tennis court.
“I like to say that I’m rewriting my story,” said Applebaum.
Witnessing tragedies throughout her lifetime has inspired Applebaum to reach out to strangers coping with stress on campus. “I kind of wonder ‘what if these people are going through something and they need someone to talk to?’ I’ll be that person,” she said.
Last semester, after discovering assistant professor Keith Gunner’s wife was battling cancer, she became closer with the professor. “Once a week I’ll bring him homemade meals that he can cook for his wife because she can’t cook for herself,” said Applebaum.
Heading back to the court
Before her first practice in August, Applebaum feared that years away from tennis would prevent her from success on the team. “I thought I would just drop it like a class,” she said.
Feeling sore and lacking confidence during the beginning of the season, Applebaum was certain that she would would not be playing with the team for long. She crossed off every practice she attended on her calendar for the first month to take every practice at a time. It wasn’t until she faced Herkimer County Community College, her first game on an official team in six years, that she stopped crossing off practices on her schedule.
After looking around at her teammates and mother on the sidelines at the game, Applebaum, who was behind early in the match, became inspired to win. “I’d just look at them and they gave me a look or a smile and it would just be good,” she said.
Her connection with the team has grown off the court, over a month since the season ended. Applebaum has driven to campus just to meet up with former teammates. “They kind of looked up to me even though I was looking up to them,” said Applebaum.
Applebaum’s mother attended almost every one of the 22-year-old’s matches last season. She missed one home match due to heart complications. “She was literally the only parent there at almost every single match, home and away. It made me so happy,” she said.
Over the last three years, Applebaum’s mother has been battling multiple myeloma, a rare terminal bone marrow cancer. “[My family] just put a halt on everything,” she said. From 2012 to 2014, Applebaum devoted less time at Hudson Valley and more time at home, taking care of her mother.
At the age of three, her adopted father died of lung cancer. In sixth grade, her mother’s then-fiancé fell to leukemia. “Now that it’s happening for a third time while I’m older, I really see what my Mom could’ve been going through when she was going through that with her husband,” she said.
By tenth grade, after playing with the Shaker High School varsity tennis team for three years, Applebaum backed away from tennis to help her mother who was struggling with a brain tumor. She left tennis for the rest of high school and dealt with stress by showing hostility. ”People saw me a certain way and I just went with it,” she said.
The summer before her senior year, Applebaum’s attitude changed when her mother let a co-worker, Tracy Laverty, stay in their Loudonville home after struggling with a breakup. During her stay, Applebaum spent most of her time with Laverty to cope with stress. “If I had the slightest bit of sadness on my face, she would do everything she could to take it off,” said Applebaum.
One day, around 6 a.m., Laverty woke her up to play tennis for the first time since tenth grade. “She didn’t know how to hit a tennis ball, but she was doing it for me,” she said.
Shortly after moving out in 2013, Laverty died of an unintentional prescription drug overdose mixed with alcohol abuse. “I could cry any second from that, but I also smile a lot,” she recalled. After her death, Applebaum didn’t step on a tennis court until August this year.
The next away match
Next season, Applebaum hopes to play tennis with a different team, away from home. She considers her next challenge living away from her family. “To put myself out there and live in a dorm with somebody would be a completely different experience for me,” said Applebaum.
Beyond transferring outside the region, Applebaum hopes to use her biology concentration to work with nutrition science to help others struggling with disease. Her decision to pursue biology was inspired by her mother, who changed her eating habits after being diagnosed with cancer. “I see how much good eating helps. When you get diagnosed with something, you have to think ‘I have to change my entire eating habits’ and that’s not easy for anyone,” she said.