There’s a nice letter in the Sunday Times describing the kind way Andy Roddick reached out to a 13-year-old who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2002.
The letter, from Andrea H. Ciminello, says her son, Adam Ciminello, is now a leukemia survivor and a Brandeis graduate, and that Roddick “remains a champion” in the family’s eyes.
Roddick is a bit busy this weekend, playing tennis. Then again, Adam Ciminello is a bit busy, making music in his studio. (He plays the piano and sings and writes his own songs.)
But Adam had some time on the phone Saturday to describe how he came to know Roddick, who was only 19 at the time.
Members of Adam’s family made contact with Roddick’s web site in 2002, saying that the 13-year-old tennis player and Roddick fan was undergoing chemotherapy. Blanche Roddick, Andy’s mother, contacted Andrea Ciminello and they talked, as mothers. Then the young professional, traveling all over the world, began getting in touch with Adam.
“For a while, we would talk every few weeks,” Adam said. “This was back in the day when people used answering machines. He would leave a message, and he would call back.
“We didn’t talk about ‘hang in there’ or “stay strong,’ things the hospital social workers might say with me,” said Adam. “I suppose if I had wanted to talk about it, he would have. But we talked about girls and movies and pop culture.”
One time Adam and his family attended a clinic Roddick was giving at Rockefeller Center, and he met Andy and James Blake – “another great guy.”
Another time the Ciminellos, who live in Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson River north of the city, got a call that Andy was playing in a few hours at one of Billie Jean King’s World Team Tennis events in Schenectady. The family raced upstate, not knowing how it would work out, but Roddick spotted them in the crowd and found them box seats.
“He joked with me during the match,” Adam recalled. “He would say, ‘Adam, where should I play this one?’”
A third time, Roddick spotted Adam during a practice at the U.S. Open and talked to him, without interrupting his work.
In 2003, Roddick won the Open, still his only Grand Slam championship. A few weeks later, Adam found a message on the machine, something like “Sorry I haven’t called but things have been a little crazy around here.”
Adam estimates Roddick called 15 times over three years.
“He could have given me a signed poster and I would have been psyched,” Adam said. “He never did anything for personal gain. If anything, we played it up more than he did.”
At some point, they fell out of touch. Adam played high-school tennis and then discovered other pursuits, which is often how college works.
He takes an annual blood test and EKG – “and that’s it.”
At the moment, Adam is working for his parents, Paul and Andrea, who run their own company, Ecosystem Strategies, Inc. Adam is just starting out as a musician at 23; his pal is retiring from the tennis tour at 30.
As part of his farewell press conference, Roddick made a few jokes about his sometimes testy relationship with the media. It’s his thing. I usually smiled when he dropped a sarcastic line on me or somebody else asking a dumb question. (They were always dumb questions.) I got his humor, which sometimes was meant to deflect the thoughtful guy inside.
Adam Ciminello says Roddick did not have to keep in contact. The important thing is that when a kid was lying in a hospital, receiving chemotherapy, and just dreaming of hitting tennis balls again, Andy Roddick was there to chat about all the good stuff.
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