Great Neck North tennis team hopes fundraiser will score win again MS

Mindy Alpert is not one for the limelight.

As an assistant coach for the girls’ university tennis team at John L. Miller Great Neck North High School, her place is on the sidelines of the court.

For one day, though, Alpert is happy to have the attention focused on her at the Play It Forward for Multiple Sclerosis Tennis Tournament, a fundraiser for the benefit of research and raising awareness scheduled for Nov. 6 in high school; at the time of the press release, the stakes had risen to around $ 2,000.

A former high school and college tennis champion, Alpert, 59, from Great Neck, gave up playing in 2006 due to MS, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

That same year, Peter Hugo, then Great Neck North’s sports director, who was aware of the Alperts’ impressive tennis career, called her and heard about her employment and state of health. He offered her the job as head coach of the team.

“I said to him, ‘I would love it, but with MS I don’t know if I come or go half the time,'” Alpert recalled.

Eventually, Alpert agreed to take on the role of unpaid assistant coach.

During 15 years as a coach at Great Neck North, including assisting on the girls basketball team, she concluded that if her career had not been shot by MS, she probably would not have had the opportunity to train.

“Maybe that was what I was going to do,” she pondered. “Maybe that’s hopefully how I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Living with insecurity

By the time she served as senior vice president of investment at Smith Barney, Alper’s health had gradually declined, and she was diagnosed with MS in 1998.

Three years later, at the age of 38, she retired from a decade-long financial career that included five years at Merrill Lynch.

“I held on for as long as I could,” Alpert explained, adding that she had memory loss, difficulty finding words and other cognitive problems at work, and her doctor recommended that she quit as stress made her more ill.

“I had terrible fatigue, besides, ‘I’m tired’ fatigue. This was down to the bone tired, you-can-not-function tired,” she said.

Looking back, Alpert said there were signs she had MS when she went to college.

“I never understood why I was so much more tired than everyone else,” she said.

By November 1996, she had developed optic neuritis – often an early symptom of MS – and lost sight in her right eye. After taking steroids, Alpert’s vision returned within a few months.

Like many autoimmune conditions, MS is diagnosed through testing and eliminating other possible diseases, such as cancer, Alpert explained.

For Alpert, MS makes life unpredictable. Some mornings, she said, she could feel good, but then she can not function in the afternoon. To cope with this, she carefully plans her days and plans ample time to rest.

“Overall strategy is: prioritize what is important to me, which is coaching and volunteering,” Alpert said. “And … to see friends and family.”

As part of her advocacy work, Alpert served on the board of the Long Island branch of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society from 1998 to 2019, six years as chairman. When that group became the Greater New York City-Long Island department in 2019, she bowed; she remains on the board of the National MS Society.

Alpert has always been a supportive resource for others, noted Andrea Kantor, Alpert’s spouse for seven years.

“A lot of people will call her and say, ‘My child, my cousin, or whatever I am now, has just been diagnosed with MS. What do we do?’ said Kantor, 57, a banking professional. “She gets a lot of those calls.”

All-around athlete

Alpert started playing tennis when she was introduced to the game at the age of 8. Athletics, competitiveness and the fact that players only needed one other person for a game were reasons why she loved the sport.

As a 10-year-old, she competed across the country; as an 11-year-old, she took lessons at the Port Washington Tennis Academy, known for nurturing tennis characters John McEnroe, Tracy Austin and Mary Carillo.

The young Alpert was ranked 25th in the East for 14 years and under, but gave up competing in tournaments as she was too busy playing on several high school teams – tennis, field hockey, basketball, softball, athletics and volleyball.

“I think I still have the record for the number of sports played in a year,” Alpert said.

When she was in ninth grade, Great Neck North’s varsity girls’ tennis team – which she now coaches – won the county championship for the first time. They continued to win for the next three years, all while she was on the team. As a high school junior, she was half of the best doubles team in Nassau County, and continued in sixth place in the state of New York.

At Cornell University, where she majored in business and psychology, Alpert played tennis and basketball first year, continued with basketball in her sophomore year – but had to drop out in her teens when she was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

After college, she played in tennis tournaments on Long Island and in Westchester – until she was gripped by incessant fatigue.

Yet Alpert does not wallow in self-pity.

“I never thought, ‘Why me?’ because, ‘Why not me?’ I’m no better than anyone else, “she reasoned.

Alpert, who trained badminton for half a dozen years and will start as an assistant coach for boys’ tennis teams this spring, claims she gets more out of training than those she trains.

“I know six days a week, every afternoon, that I will go and focus on something positive and hopefully give back and hopefully make a difference in high school kids’ lives,” she said. “For me, it’s one of the greatest things you can do in your life.”

In addition to tennis skills, Alpert tries to convey what she calls “Mindy’s life lessons” – how to win and lose graciously, get out of it with teammates, remove selfish interests and practice good time management.

Alana Shapiro, co-organizer of Play It Forward and junior at Great Neck North, who has played tennis in middle and high school, noted that Alpert teaches sportsmanship and always playing fair.

“I think she’s a great person and coach and she brings so much to our team,” said Shapiro, 16. “Even though she’s struggling with her illness, she’s still so positive and encouraging for our team.”

Mike Kazin, head coach of boys ‘and girls’ tennis at Great Neck North, who has worked with Alpert for 10 years, said he considers her an equal.

“I appreciate her insight into tennis strategy, knowledge,” Kazin said, noting that she was a member of the last Great Neck North Nassau County championship team in 1980.

When the coaches do post-match analysis and discuss strategies for training sessions and future matches, Kazin said, “She can always offer me insights and angles that I might not have seen in any of the matches.”

For the past eight years in a row, the girls’ college tennis team has reached the playoffs in Nassau County and reached the county finals in the last four.

Team competitions

Great Neck North junior Sophie Frenkel, a tennis team member and co-organizer of Play It Forward, has known Alpert since her freshman year when Frenkel started playing basketball.

“Every year, my team usually dedicates a match or a game to raising money for MS, but the money only comes from a back-sale,” Frenkel, 15. “We decided to plan a larger fundraiser and see what impact society could really make. on MS. “

Added Shapiro, “We hope our teammates in the future can give back to her and show their support, even after we graduate.”

When Frenkel and Shapiro approached their tennis coaches with their fundraising concept, Alpert remembered that they replied: “The fact that you two thought about it on your own and came to coach Kazin and me about this, I can not tell you ‘how much it means. to me.’ “

Alpert is eager to spread awareness about MS, even on the tennis team, tell players about her condition and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.

“I wanted to tell them that if I was not there, it’s probably because I’m sick at home and can not get out of bed,” she said.

Although she does not miss many games or exercises, Alpert says that MS makes every day a challenge.

Training the team, she said, is “so good, even though I don’t feel so good when I get there, because I know it’s just going to be so positive.”

Over the years, Alpert has established strong ties with team members and their parents, and he has kept in touch with many after players leave the team.

“One child said, ‘You are one of the two adults who have made a difference in my life,'” she recalled. “How can you not just love it?”

Working for a cure

Multiple sclerosis, commonly called MS, is a disease of the brain and spinal cord in which the insulation that keeps nerves running is destroyed, explained Tim Coetzee, chief attorney, services and science officer for the Albany-based National MS Society. The disease affects a person’s mobility and vision and causes extreme fatigue.

“We have a mission in the MS Society to cure MS and give people affected by MS the opportunity to live their best lives,” Coetzee said. Money raised by the organization funds research into treatment and provides support services to people with MS and their relatives, he said.

Although there is no cure for MS, there are more than 20 treatments, all of which are considered “disease-modifying therapies” that reduce relapse, delay the development of disability, and slow down new inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.

“The goal of treatment is to slow down the disease process and really try to minimize its effect,” Coetzee said.

For more information or to donate, visit nationalmssociety.org.

– Arlene Gross

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