Jan. 15, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Andrew Adams is no stranger to adversity. The senior on the South Carolina men's tennis team has triumphed over setbacks, on and off the court, to surge to the top of the Gamecocks' lineup while earning All-America honors last season. His mother, Maria, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and he had to fight through his own health problems that caused him to miss half of one season on the court.
"I've been through a lot of struggles with my family, and that's my drive and why I play tennis," Adams said. "There was a period when I thought I wasn't going to be able to do this anymore, but I woke up every morning saying I play for my family and I play for myself. I couldn't give up on it. My family is the bedrock of my tennis."
Born in Guyana, South America, his father's military career in the United States Navy led the family to live in Puerto Rico, New York, and Maryland before finding a home at South Carolina. His father, Andrew Sr., had introduced him to tennis when he was five years old. Both parents are mainstays at his matches and practices.
Adams earned All-Region team honors as a rookie, and he was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Carolina Rookie of the Year. Things were going well until December of his sophomore year when Maria was diagnosed with cancer.
"She seemed fine, and then she got sick and it happened really fast," Adams said. "The day she got sick was the scariest moment of my life. You get scared because at first you really have no idea what's going on. It was so sudden. It was terrifying."
His mother's health was constantly in his thoughts as he returned to school for the spring semester, but playing tennis did provide a coping mechanism.
"In those first few months she was undergoing treatments, you just don't know if things are going to take a turn for the worse," Adams recalled. "It was a constant, day-to-day worry. Playing tennis was my time of the day to focus on something else for a few hours, so it was a relief in a way."
Despite chemotherapy treatments and a weakened immune system, Maria would still make it out to his matches. Adams said seeing his mother watch him play as he struggled in a match against North Carolina State was a life-changing moment for him.
"There were maybe three people watching my match, and one of them was my mom," Adams said. "This was maybe a month after she started chemo. It took a lot of effort for her to be out there. I looked up in the stands and my mom was huddled in the corner. It was cold, so she was bundled up, and I know she was feeling terrible because of the chemotherapy. I got so upset, I walked to the back fence and started crying. I was two points away from losing this match, and the team was close to losing this match. I didn't want this to happen."
Adams rallied to win the match, as did one of his teammates, and the Gamecocks won 4-3. He gives credit for that victory to Maria.
"I put that victory on my mom because she came out and I thought about her determination and fight," Adams said. "That pushed me through."
Although she felt miserable at times from treatments, Maria never wanted to miss watching her son.
"He's our child, so it's important for us to be there," Maria said. "When we're there, he feels encouraged. I told him I am going to fight this, and I'm going to fight this because of you. I told him we were going to get over this together. Even though there were some days I couldn't eat, I never showed him a negative day. It was kind of tough, but we rallied and had courage."
As soon as I step out on the tennis court, I'm with nine guys who I love, and it does a lot more than you think it will do. It's pretty uplifting.
Bad luck would soon find Adams once again at the end of his sophomore year. He fought through a torn labrum and a bone fracture in his hip, which led to surgery that summer and would take him off the courts for the following fall season.
"It was depressing," Adams said. "Dealing with the surgery and all that was going on with my mom was pretty tough. After that first month and a half after surgery, I thought I was done here. Coming back was mental torture, because in tennis, you can lose in six months what you learn in three years. Just that pressure of not being as good as you were before can break a lot of people."
Part of his rehabilitation process involved the realization that he would have to change his game. By the spring of 2014, Adams was not only competing for a spot in the Gamecock lineup, but he eventually took over the No. 1 singles position.
"Hip surgery was tough because my legs are such a big part of my game," Adams said. "It forced me to develop my game in other areas. It actually helped me out later as other areas of my game got better. It actually made me a better player. I worked insanely hard to get back to where I was."
Getting some wins under his belt as he moved his way up through the lineup allowed his confidence to return. While his mother's health was improving at this time, his father underwent cataract surgery, which prevented his biggest fan from seeing all that he had been accustomed, at least temporarily. Adams says he normally doesn't like to share his personal feelings and didn't want to talk about all he was going through with his struggles on and off the court, but his teammates were always there for him.
"The guys on the team gave me great moral support," Adams said. "The chemistry with the guys is great. Those guys really helped me a lot, and that put me in a better place. As soon as I step out on the tennis court, I'm with nine guys who I love, and it does a lot more than you think it will do. It's pretty uplifting."
While his parents have been his biggest influences, Coach Josh Goffi has made an impact as well.
"Your parents know you well, but sometimes you need an outside or third person to really see the areas where you need to improve," Adams said. "I'm a different person now than when I came in as a freshman. There were a lot of things I was not good at dealing with, and he lays it out on the table for you. Whether it's tennis or something personal, he will let you know. He always says that he is showing you the mirror. He has helped a lot with me growing as person, and I'll forever be thankful for that."
As he has improved, so have the Gamecocks, and he is proud to wear the garnet and black.
"Being on the team is hands down the best part about being a Gamecock because you are a part of something that is larger than yourself," Adams said. "Our program has improved every year since I've been here. Five years from now I'm going to look back at the program and say that I helped build that."
With Maria in remission and having fully recovered from his own health problems, Adams is focused on helping the Gamecocks make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"It definitely sets my mind at ease to know they'll both be standing there in the crowd," Adams said. "The situation could have been much worse. I'm so thankful. It's a big deal to see them there. I definitely think everything is coming together now, so I'm ready for it."
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