Pembroke Hill senior Nathan Turtledove went from the top of the mountain, almost to the bottom of the mountain and then to the top of the podium at the Missouri boys tennis championships, which concluded Saturday at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
This doubles championship with fellow senior Logan Stevens was very unexpected, and not because of the ability of the two players who have competed with each other for seven years.
Turtledove was not expected to be at the state tournament ... and in many regards he’s lucky to even be alive.
Turtledove went on a family vacation to Cape Town, South Africa during spring break (Nathan’s father, Robert, is from Zimbabwe). Nathan, Bob, his sister, Ally, and a family friend, Stan Miller, decided to take a hike up Lion’s Head Mountain, which is just off of Table Mountain.
They began their journey at 4:30 a.m. and were enjoying it immensely. Some 40,000 steps later, they were at the top of the mountain.
Ally was on a rock near the edge of the cliff and motioned to Nathan to come over to see the view. What followed was a life-and-death situation for Nathan.
“There was some loose gravel, which you couldn’t see,” Turtledove said. “It was like stepping on ice and I went over. Luckily I hit a rock about 10 or 15 feet down because otherwise is was a straight drop.”
Turtledove was bleeding profusely, but his first thoughts were not about what could have been a dire situation.
“The first thing I thought of was, ‘Don’t tell Mom,’” Turtledove said.
Turtledove was operating on pure adrenaline and got back to the top on his own power.
But the symptoms began almost immediately as he went into shock and developed tachycardia, a rapid heart rate. His heart rate was dangerously elevated.
Luckily, a doctor from Salt Lake City was also hiking that day and happened to pass by. She recognized the importance of getting Nathan to a hospital as soon as possible. He was air-lifted to a facility in Cape Town and was treated for numerous injuries, including a broken nose and fracture of his left wrist.
“The doctors in South Africa are first class,” Turtledove said. “They did a great job. They told me that March 20 was the luckiest day of my life. They said that 90 percent of these kinds of falls are fatal. They said two things may have saved me, being athletic and working out a lot.”
They also advised Turtledove to erase high school tennis from his mind. Hopefully, he would recuperate enough to play in college at St. Lawrence University.
But Turtledove, who had to endure a very unpleasant 36-hour flight home, was not giving up hope of playing high school tennis again.
He lost 15 pounds of muscle, but he worked hard and had a very fast recovery
He needed to play one match in the regular season to be eligible for the post-season. He did that on senior night, playing right-handed (he is a lefty) and actually won his match.
He and Stevens eventually qualified for the state tournament and ended up winning it, defeating Sam Wang and Dav Nayak of John Burroughs, the Class 1 team champion, in three sets in the championship match.
“I never thought I would be in this spot,” Turtledove said. “It feels so good to do it with another senior who I have playing with for so long.”
Stevens was surprised to have his partner available to even make a state title a dream.
“It’s our last year and this was a last minute thing,” said Stevens, who will be attending Tulane University in the fall. “Everything came to fruition and this means everything to do it with Nathan, especially all that he has gone through.”
The amazing accomplishment was one of the few highlights of the 2019 tournament for area players.
Turtledove and Stevens were not only the lone Kansas City champions but the only area players in the championship bracket Saturday.
Barstow’s Richie King won the consolation singles championship in Class 1 singles. Justin House of St. Michael the Archangel earned a medal with a seventh-place finish.
Liberty had both a singles and doubles medalist.
Owen Mulcahy and Tyson Cowger won the consolation championship in Class 2 doubles while Noah Kock was seventh in Class 2 singles.
Park Hill South’s Andrew Robaska and Cooper Hayes defeated Nicholas Mathis and Logan Leslie of Lee’s Summit North in the seventh-place match. Both teams earned medals.