A story about Erika Sandor-Zur and her journey through the impossible.
For some of us, even rock bottom isn’t low enough to learn from our mistakes or appreciate the life we’ve been given. Sometimes, it takes losing everyone and everything, even our will to live, to regain perspective and heal from the inside out. of us, even rock bottom isn’t low enough to learn from our mistakes or appreciate the life we’ve been given. Sometimes, it takes losing everyone and everything, even our will to live, to regain perspective and heal from the inside out.
“I found myself in a crack house watching a mother trade sex with her child for a hit of crack. I lived in abandoned apartments that had no water or electricity to get high with other crack addicts. I started selling my body for a hit.”
It takes a massive amount of heart, grit, and determination to not only make it to the other side of addiction but to then excel to the heights of elite sports on the international stage.
Well, Erika Sandor-Zur never really does anything halfway.
Before her downward spiral into the depths of drug and alcohol abuse, Erika was a recognized high school tennis player, ranked number one in northeastern Ohio as well as nationally ranked.
And then, in a poof of smoke, quite literally, everything fell apart.
“At 18 years old, in my senior year, I worked in a coffee house. A busman invited me to a party… so I went across the street… and they put a $30 hit of crack on a pipe. They showed me how to smoke it. The exact second that I inhaled; the feeling was so good that nothing else mattered. That first taste of crack ended up destroying everything around me. I literally chased that high from coast to coast for the next 15 years.”
That first experience with drugs started Erika on a very slippery slope and changed the trajectory of her life.
“By the time I turned 37, I was a single mother of two boys and had been in and out of 19 rehab centers. I was arrested more than 25 times. And I was getting physically abused every single day.”
For years, she towed a very dangerous line without regard for the repercussions. Her addiction to crack cocaine led her to be raped, beaten, shot, and left for dead.
“I didn’t want to live anymore, but – strangely — I didn’t want to die, either. And I didn’t want to get high anymore, but I didn’t know how to stop. ”
It is here where Erika’s story can get misunderstood.
The legal system took away her two sons which many believe is the reason Erika was finally able to stick to a sobriety program. Getting her kids back was a factor but if she’s being extremely honest, her kids were not enough of a reason to try again. That fact is shocking for some and a known truth for other addicts.
Then something just clicked.
“I kept hearing whispers of things people were saying to me. I couldn’t understand them but I knew I was supposed to be hearing something new. One day while looking in a mirror, I told myself that getting sober would be horribly painful but it didn’t matter because I had nothing left to lose. It was a faith moment for me – one I had never felt in twenty-plus years of struggling with this demon. I have no idea why it was different this time. All I know is that I had a warm feeling all over my body and realized that if I could be honest with myself and everyone around me, I had a chance. I told myself to trust God.”
The date was July 11, 2017.
Erika’s inspired success came from a deep spiritual awakening, which compelled her to be completely and bluntly honest with herself and others.
“I wish I could say that when my boys were taken away, that that’s what it took to get sober. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was the slap in the face that brought back the fight inside me I thought was lost. Committing to honesty was the mustard seed of faith that put me on the path to wellness, and honesty remains the foundation for my life and success now. Honesty cracked me open and allowed me to fill in every other crack in my life.”
But her road to recovery wouldn’t be an easy one. Erika was facing her BreakPoint.
Definition of BreakPoint:
A situation in tennis in which the receiving player can win the game by scoring the next point
Also: the point so scored.
There was much damage to repair and actions in which to make amends. Plus, she had to convince the legal system that she could care for her children on and off the courts. The uphill battle wasn’t one she was willing to lose. She was facing the net straight on.
“I began the journey of sobriety again for the twentieth time. Only this time, I’m fighting to get my boys back, and the stakes are too high for me to fail. I was on the receiving end of my last shot. How I play next is all that matters.”
Erika would succeed or wouldn’t ever come back from crack.
On top of the drive to regain custody of her sons, Erika felt she still needed even more purpose to get up every day and to stay sober. So, she turned to the only thing that she thought she was ever good at — tennis.
“I’m the best version of me on the tennis court. Tennis strips away all the noise. I can focus on the only thing that really matters, staying sober and my family.”
Make no mistake, Erika did not trade one addiction for the other by going back to tennis.
“I did the ‘impossible’ work to fill the voids once occupied by drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, and using men and women as my gods. Tennis allowed me to reunite with something that made me a better me when I was growing up. Reviving my tennis career gave me a purpose every single morning to get up and do the work and keep filling in the voids – I still do the work. The more I focus on my routines the more confident I become in one single fact: even if I stopped playing tennis tomorrow, crack no longer has a hold on me. I have finally filled in my holes.”
Now, Erika is chasing her tennis dream and riding a different high as she decided to take her career to the next level.
Similar to the precise footwork routines champion tennis players practice on the court, Erika began to execute a set of strategic moves off the court. A big move was seeking out a way to meet world-renowned tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri. In one of her most calculated moves, she traveled to the acclaimed IMG training center in Florida and searched all the training courts until she was able to stand directly in front of this tennis legend. He listened to her story about wanting to win the Grand Slam after everything she’d been through. He then began to watch her on the court.
“It wasn’t just luck that brought me to Nick. I put myself out there willing to fall on my face in front of him in order to prove myself. I wasted too many years waiting for that lucky day when things would work out for me. I sought him out with every anxiety-filled bone in my body, honest with myself that he could easily turn me away.”
To transform her life, Erika began doing even more hard work on and off the court so that everyone could see the determination she has in making her new dream come true.
“What is amazing about Nick is that he never made fun of my dream. He never said it was too big.”
According to Bollettieri, he understood what was at stake.
“This was far more than playing for the US Open. She was playing for her life, baby,” says Bollettieri.
She was a 41-year-old recovering from substance addiction wanting to become a professional athlete. She was starting over. Completely.
“Getting my life on track meant there would be a lot of firsts for me. I was ready for my first career and my first real relationship with another person. What had me terrified was learning to be a mom for the very first time.”
Erika worked within the legal system’s framework and now has full custody of her children. She also married the love of her life, ironically a man she had tried to con out of money when she was high, who has since forgiven her and also fallen deeply in love.
Now she’s turned her attention to tennis, and she’s not looking to settle for just ‘great’. Again, Erika doesn’t do anything halfway.
“I’m not stopping… I’ve come too far. I’ve got a lot to prove to my family and those that have believed in me. But I have even more to prove to myself. This former crackhead is going to make her dream of playing in the Grand Slam at 45 a reality. Period.”
According to Bollettieri, he has no qualms about taking a chance on Erika and her tennis career. He has become her coach and assembled a winning team of trainers to work with her daily.
“She’s come a long way. Believe me; it’s not going to be easy. But you know what? If she didn’t have a penny, I would help that lady because I’m part of the team that’s keeping them [her family] together… that makes me feel as though I’ve created another champion. I am adding her to my list of 10 number ones in the world.” Bollettieri states emphatically.
Erika may not be a tennis champion yet, but she is sober. She’s a wife and a mother. She worries that she’s going to get high every day because the struggle is always there just below the surface. Yet, she refuses to concede that she may have squandered her shot at an amazing pro tennis career because it took her decades to shake her addictions.
“I’m not a fool. I know this is a long shot. It’s a one in a trillion chance that I’m going to make it to the Grand Slam, but it was a one in a trillion chance I’d stay sober that twentieth time. Make no mistake, I’m sober. And I’m healthy, sober, too.”
It’s BreakPoint time.
If you have been inspired by Erika’s story and want to contribute to her success, you may consider sponsoring one of her tennis matches as she makes her way to the Grand Slam. To sponsor Erika, please contact TGC Worldwide and her manager Charlie Fusco – firstname.lastname@example.org.