Monica’s got a grip on more than her racket.

A few weeks ago, the good people at Avery saw fit to send me a copy of Monica Seles’ new book, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self.

And what kind of asshole would I have to be to turn down free books?

As I read through it, I dog-eared each page that mentioned anything about food. That book is now double the thickness it was when I started, because damn near every page mentions something about food.

In case you weren’t aware, Monica Seles is a former professional tennis player — a spectacular one. She won the French Open when she was 16, and was ranked No. 1 in her sport for three consecutive years — in total, winning nine individual Grand Slam tournaments by the time she was 19 years old.

When she was stabbed in the back.

Literally. With a knife.

A man described as stocky and balding leaned over the three-feet-high (91 cm) barrier and stabbed her from behind. Miss Seles let out a scream, clutched her back and stumbled on to the court.

The attack took place in full view of the 6,000-strong crowd watching the match.

“He held the knife with both hands as he stabbed her in the back,” said one eyewitness.

~BBC News, April 30, 1993.

Following this traumatic event, the tennis world rather ungraciously left Monica behind as she struggled to recover, physically and emotionally. She lost her ranking and her sponsorships. Then her father died.

And in the course of dealing with all of this, her natural love of food was replaced by disordered eating — namely, binge eating.

She gained a significant amount of weight, and the press responded to this with the classiness and sensitivity one might expect. Which is to say, none whatsoever.

Monica Seles has got her appetite back, and not just for tennis. A frisky wind in Florida shows how she is piling on the pounds. Thunder thighs Monica, 23, made heavy going of her latest match…

~The Mirror (London, England), March 27, 1997.

The book details her attempts to get back into the game of tennis — attempts that would, ultimately, only deepen her disordered eating, as she fought against her body to lose weight and whip herself into competitive shape.

Surrounded by an entourage of trainers and nutritionists, who eventually became both food-police and babysitters, Monica seemed to have lost touch with not only her phenomenal athleticism, but with her body as a whole.

The turn comes when, surprise-of-all-surprises, she chucks the rules, chucks the diets, chucks the insane pressure, and decides to live her life.

She figures out food, and grief, and how to be in her body. In the process, she loses the weight she’d gained. She feels better about herself; she feels like she’s come home.

And that’s all very nice for Monica Seles.

The thing is, I kind of wish the weight loss thing wasn’t emphasized so much. There’s even an iconic too-small dress that she uses as a symbol of her progress. But, really, I believe weight changes are secondary to whatever is going on with one’s eating and health in general.

Besides which, if she hadn’t lost any weight, but still managed to figure everything else out, should she then consider herself not to have gotten a grip? To be, for all intents and purposes, gripless?

I think you know my answer, which is a resounding naaaaaaah.

At any rate, I am happy for her. I am always relieved and gladdened to hear of any woman negotiating her way out of weight obsession and dysfunctional eating. And though it’s not going to be winning any Pulitzer, this was an engaging book that exposed me to a surprisingly interesting world I hadn’t ever thought much about — the world of the professional athlete and tennis player.

Though I’m assuming it was ghostwritten, Seles’ playful — one might almost be tempted to say bubbly — personality comes through in an appealing way. Right along with her wildly enthusiastic love of food, which I can totally get behind.

There’s also an unconfirmed report floating around that I may have cried once while reading it. Yeah, just don’t go around telling people.

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