Long after the cars were gone, long after the library closed, long after others were going about their evening rituals, Kay McDaniel would hit tennis balls against the wall.

A block from her house, the brick wall of the library became the place of mystery and discovery, passion and patience, discipline and training. Even after she had turned pro, Kay would go back to the wall, sometimes following a defeat, sometimes following a victory; and there she would stay for hours and hours, stroking ball after ball after ball, developing a rhythm and stamina that would carry her to the #30 ranking in the world. “I would stay there for hours and hours and that would make the tennis matches seem simple,” Kay says.

Of course, Kay’s approach to life, not just tennis, is one of passion and perseverance, dedication and determination – and a willingness to overcome whatever obstacle stands in the way.

And there have been obstacles.

“As soon as my hand touched the racket,” Kay recalls, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

She held her first tennis racket at the age of 11, and felt an immediate crackling energy of passion. “As soon as my hand touched the racket,” Kay recalls, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

But she didn’t own a racket – nor did anyone else in her family – and the only way she could purchase a racket was with green stamps – a commodity with which many of today’s 11 year olds aren’t even familiar. Given as bonus value for purchases, green stamps could be exchanged for merchandise. It took Kay 50 stamp books, filled with stamps, and six months before she owned her first racket.

So, armed with her green stamp racket, she approached the game of tennis, punctuating games and tournaments with regular trips to the wall. Ironically, that green stamp racket is one of only two Kay owned throughout her entire career – for 20 years she was given free rackets while playing on the tour.

Seeking an instructor, Kay approached a pro and asked to take lessons. He was not impressed with the 11-year-old standing before him, clutching her green stamp racket. “He took one look at me and told me I was too skinny and too short, and to try again in two years,” she says. Two years to the day, she stood before him asking, “Remember me? I’m back.”

By 8:30, Kay had been soundly defeated, and by 9:30, before some contestants were even out of bed, she was down the road, out of town,

With her passion and determination, and a great deal of skill (she once received the Concorde Award, given by British Airways, for the “Fastest Serve in Women’s Tennis), Kay began making her way through the tennis ranks, receiving the #1 ranking in Louisiana, as well as the #1 ranking in the South, a region comprised of nine states.

Her first National Jr. Championship ended rather ingloriously. She had been playing only seven months when she found herself pitted against the #1 seed in the tournament. The match began at 8 am. By 8:30, Kay had been soundly defeated, and by 9:30, before some contestants were even out of bed, she was down the road, out of town, heading back to the wall.

Despite her inauspicious beginning, Kay persevered. She attended LSU, and played well in the NCAA. During her junior year, she knew it was time to turn pro.
One of her first matches was in Canada. So sure was she that she would not do well, she packed for a short trip – no warm-up, two skirts and three shirts. She won match after match, day after day, scrubbing her well-worn and sweat-soaked clothes in the sink at night.

She played against a span of legends – Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navritalova and Steffi Graf.
Her rookie year found her at Wimbledon, ranked 75th in the world, and her career, launched with a green stamp racket and honed by hours at the wall, carried her around the world. She played in six Wimbledons, six U.S. Opens, and three French Opens. She played against a span of legends – Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navritalova and Steffi Graf.

Three weeks before her seventh Wimbledon, it was over. She retired. Her passion for tennis was spent, replaced with a new passion. “When I picked up the racket at age 11, I had a two-fold passion. I knew I wanted to play tennis, and I knew I wanted to give my life away. I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was volunteering,” she states.

It wasn’t. It was God.

Six months before retiring, she had a spiritual experience. “I found Christ”, she says. Her passion for tennis waned, as her passion for God waxed. “I went with my gut. I quit the tour and decided to follow God 100%.”

Her tennis career complete, Kay would face even more difficult obstacles than returning rocketing serves or firing sharp backhands. Diagnosed with two incurable diseases – Lupus and Addison’s – Kay has fought her way through her progressively deteriorating health to launch a new career.

Assistant Professor of Human Performance at Lee University, Kay brings her characteristic passion to
“I love living in the moment. This is my appointed time to live.”
the classroom. “I love what I do,” she states, cadence in her voice rising as testimony to her excitement, “Getting kids to ignite the power and passion they have, helping them to disburse that, showing them how they can use the techniques and principles of their faith in the workplace – that’s very gratifying.”

So, how does she maintain her energy and passion and joy in the face of a deepening health crisis? She goes to the wall. Not a literal wall, but a figurative one. She just keeps marching on, as if she was still stroking ball after ball against the side of the library.

“I am a witness to the sustaining power of God on an everyday basis. I wait for a complete healing, knowing He is capable. For me, it’s not a matter of whether He will heal me, but whether He will sustain me.

“I’ve quit attacking His throne room asking for unabashed healing. I’m trying to learn to see this as a friend rather than a foe.”

And what of the future? Kay is as philosophical as practical. “I don’t look back very far, and I don’t look much into the future. I love living in the moment. This is my appointed time to live.”

Long after others would have wilted and atrophied, their groans turning into complaints, Kay McDaniel is holding serve.