Winning is everything in Hurricane Helen's class
By GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun
A Hurricane has hit Toronto.
And I'm not referring to Sherwood Schwarz being blown back to New York, nor the half-million fans who blew in for yesterday's SARS-Stock event.
I'm referring to Hurricane Helen Kelesi, the Canadian tennis player who, a decade ago, was ranked No. 11 in the world, the highest ranking for a Canadian woman since Darling Carling Bassett Seguso's No. 10 standing.
Hurricane Helen, four-time Canadian champion, swept into town to teach young boys and girls how to win in the over-the-webbing sport.
She won't be teaching alone at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga. Her partner will be six-time Canadian champion Andrew Sznajder who, at one point, was ranked as high as No. 48 among the world's leading male players.
"The key thing in teaching these youngsters is to make them aware of the untapped potential they have," Sznajder said.
The coup of acquiring the pair was engineered by Jeff McCarrol, general manager of the ORC club, who was determined to sign up two proven champions for his High Performance Tennis Academy.
"They both know how to win and they complement our program," McCarrol said. "I know they can instill winning habits into our players."
Hurricane Helen certainly knows how to win -- on and off the court. On the court, her record speaks for itself. Off the court, she won battles against life-threatening brain tumours.
"I've had eight operations behind my eye," she said matter of factly. "Doctors are still keeping an eye on it and I have to have it checked every six months. Now that I'm back in Toronto, I have to find a doctor in this area."
Kelesi underwent the operations in Vancouver, one of which involved the removal of an eyeball to get at the problem. Her father, Milan, was a teaching tennis pro there and kept a parental watch. After her recovery, Helen was offered the position of head coach at the Lakewood Tennis Centre in Saskatoon, where she worked from 2001 until this year.
"Then I got a call from Chris Barnett of Milton, who asked me to come to Milton and coach his three young daughters aged nine, 10 and 11," Kelesi said. "I worked with them five hours a day. Initially, it was to be only for two weeks, but that stretched to six weeks and eventually to 10 weeks.
"Being in this area, I began looking for a job and contacted the ORC. Jeff McCarrol then offered me the position of coach and I accepted. I hope I can keep my job for two years, or so."
Hurricane Helen was always outspoken and her explosive nature sometimes got her into trouble with tennis officials.
But she still speaks her mind on tennis issues. Like when I asked her why we now don't have women who would rank 10th or 11th in the world.
"From what I have seen, the reason could be in the training of kids," she said. "These kids lack intensity, desire and discipline, three key ingredients.
"Nobody had to tell me to be more intense in my game. Now it will be my job to lead by example.
"In Saskatoon, I worked with high-level players and they followed my dedication and determination. I even coached wheelchair athletes and they certainly gave it their all. That's what's required if you want to get ahead."
Kelesi is a no-nonsense coach. She probably inherited that approach from her father who used to torment her on the tennis court and who now teaches at the Pacific Junior Tennis Academy in Abbotsford, B.C.
Who knows, if things work out, Helen and Andrew may help develop a new crop of Hurricane Helens and Tornado Andrews on the Mississauga courts.
GROSSLY ABBREVIATED: The CBC and Athens 2004 concluded their broadcasting agreement for the 2004 Olympic Games. The CBC, which is planning to take 500 employees to the Greek capital, put in the fourth-highest accepted bid. NBC is the gold medallist in that regard, thanks to its $2- billion investment in Olympic Games coverage ... Mark McKoy, Canada's 110-metre hurdles Olympic gold medallist, is working as a therapist in Dr. Tony Galea's Institute of Sports Medicine in Etobicoke. He looks in great shape and could probably still make the Athens team.