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    A Cautionary Tennis Tale

    Utah tennis player's new life after drug, alcohol struggle
    Tennis » Drugs and alcohol nearly destroyed Utes’ Natasha Smith.
    By Gordon Monson | The Salt Lake Tribune

    Natasha Smith grabbed the cash and ran. Her mom had left $300 in an unattended purse in the family’s Palm Springs, Calif., home, plunder Natasha clutched and counted as she slipped out the door and disappeared into the black night. She called for a cab at 11 p.m. to take her away from her former life and into a new one in Los Angeles or Las Vegas or wherever her fresh funds might lead her.

    Turns out, they led her to a restroom on the sand at Long Beach, where a man pulled a knife on her in a failed attempt to rape her.

    She was 13 years old.

    Too young to get mixed up in what she was doing, too troubled to stop herself from doing it.

    Five years later, last week, Smith crushed balls across the net as a member of Utah’s women’s tennis team. She looked to be a world away from her tormented past. She looked … perfect. But nobody, not even she, knows — yet — if that dark world will return.

    At 13, Smith’s life had been mostly a vision of the American dream, by way of Canada. The daughter of wealthy parents, Geoff and Alexandra Smith, she was born in Calgary, Alberta. She started into youth sports, settling on tennis, and quickly caught the eye of coaches, one of whom pronounced, after seeing her play, that she one day would become a national champion.

    To help facilitate that, and seeking a better location to live, the family moved when Natasha was 10 to Palm Springs, where she was enrolled in an exclusive academy run by renowned tennis professional Jose Higueras. The academy accepted only select junior prospects, most of whom were from foreign countries. It was not uncommon for Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to drop by for a tuneup under the watchful eye of Higueras, who trained the young ones to follow a similar path. Smith practiced for five hours a day and conditioned for another hour. In that environment, she prospered, becoming the No. 1 player of her age group in California, and one of the top prodigies in the United States.

    "It was a lot for a 13-year-old," she says. "I kind of missed being a normal kid."

    Spin out begins » But Smith was not normal. She was on the early expressway to turning pro … until she drank alcohol for the first time, and then the second, then the third. Shortly thereafter, she decided she didn’t want to play tennis anymore, she wanted to party. She wanted to drink and do drugs with her friends.

    Alexandra and Geoff Smith, who hadn’t pressured or pushed their daughter to play tennis — "They were good tennis parents … whenever I lost matches, they took me to Dairy Queen," Smith says — and they supported her decision, despite their heavy investment, when she bailed on the game.

    But they didn’t know the real reason for it.

    Suddenly, she had time to waste, and time to get wasted, which she did on a regular basis. At the family’s summer home in British Columbia, Smith sneaked out at night with her sister and friends on the family boat, where she says, "we drank, smoked weed and did hallucinogens."

    After a series of particularly frightening events, when her sister got alcohol poisoning and Smith passed out, Geoff Smith stepped in and insisted that the whole family enroll in a rehab program at the Betty Ford Center for a week. Later, he sent Smith to a rehab facility in Malibu for nearly four months. He knew she was young and disturbed and it played on his mind that he, too, had once been vexed by his uncontrolled cravings for strong drink.

    "I think I was in love with sobriety," he says.

    A couple of years earlier, on more than one occasion, Smith had found her father drunk and passed out in their home. One night, after going to dinner with her, Geoff entered the house and, forgetting that his daughter was still outside, locked the door behind him, and fell unconscious to the floor. Smith eventually crawled in a window and tried to wake her father, but couldn’t.

    "That was scary," she says.

    And that was the last personal defeat of that kind for Geoff Smith. He had suffered through years of alcohol abuse. "I was a troubled adolescent," he says. "When I was 17, I was doing some unspeakable things." As an adult, he finally went to rehab and left alcohol in his rearview.
    "It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.” - W.C. Fields

  2. #2

    Re: A Cautionary Tennis Tale

    That was a special story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. #3
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    Re: A Cautionary Tennis Tale

    Interesting story about addiction, mainly. I have to admit that I'm skeptical about the recovery. Particularly with the bit at the end that she's still on the one problematic behavior, but it's "under control".
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  4. #4

    Re: A Cautionary Tennis Tale

    Quote Originally Posted by James7 View Post
    Interesting story about addiction, mainly. I have to admit that I'm skeptical about the recovery. Particularly with the bit at the end that she's still on the one problematic behavior, but it's "under control".
    I'm hoping that since her father has managed his sobriety well that he can help her. She's still young.

    Then again there is Roscoe Tanner...
    "It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.” - W.C. Fields


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