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Van Haitsma overcomes eye injury to get back on court
By Jeff Febus
Kevin Van Haitsma
Kevin Van Haitsma

An off-season of uncertainty provided Kevin Van Haitsma with a new appreciation for more than just the game of tennis.

A senior captain on the Calvin men’s tennis team this spring, Van Haitsma was looking forward to his final year of collegiate tennis last summer when suddenly his playing career became questionable.

During a work-related accident, Van Haitsma suffered an abrasion to one of his eyes that later led to a dangerous infection. The infection threatened to leave a permanent hole in his cornea.

The eye injury forced Van Haitsma into the basement of his parents’ home in Hudsonville, Mich., for weeks as he was ordered to avoid sunlight that might further damage his eye.

Through rest and medication, further damage to his eye was prevented, but one lasting effect that remained was his lack of depth perception.

“I struggled with basic things like pouring a soft drink into a glass,” said Van Haitsma, a graduate of Unity Christian High School (Hudsonville, Mich.) and a two-time first team All-MIAA selection. “I thought I was pouring it into the glass when in fact I was pouring it all over the table.”

The struggles left Van Haitsma wondering if he would ever play tennis again. “I definitely had some doubts,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I would make it back.” Despite the struggles, Calvin men’s tennis coach John Ross was there to encourage Van Haitsma. “He came out to visit me at home a couple of times and kept telling me to keep my head up,” said Van Haitsma. “He also told me that no matter how my eye turned out, there was a spot on the team for me. That meant a lot.”

According to Ross, there was never a question whether Van Haitsma would make the men’s tennis team. “We needed his knowledge of the game whether he was able to play or not,” said Ross. “I knew that his experience would help our team.”

Ross also felt that Van Haitsma would make his way back to the court. “I felt all along that Kevin was tough enough to make it back into our line-up,” said Ross. “He’s a kid with a lot of character and determination.”

What Ross didn’t anticipate was that Van Haitsma would come back near the top of the line-up. “Kevin was our No. 1 singles players for three years, and I didn’t think he’d make it back to that form,” said Ross. “I figured he would make it back at No. 3 doubles or possibly No. 6 singles.”

Instead, Van Haitsma fought his way back to a spot at No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles. Van Haitsma finished his 2005 campaign with a singles record of 10-8 and, with junior Rafael Siebenschein (Lynden, Wash.), fashioned a doubles mark of 15-3, as Calvin finished the year 16-4 overall and in a tie for second place in the final MIAA standings.

“It wasn’t always easy,” said Van Haitsma. “I usually played better on cloudy days where there wasn’t much light. The bright sunny days were more difficult on my depth perception.”

The highlight of the year was sharing in his team’s successful season. “We had an excellent year,” said Van Haitsma. “We had depth up and down our line-up. It was definitely the best team I have been on in my four years at Calvin, and the chemistry we had on our team was great.”

Van Haitsma graduated from Calvin with a degree in business administration. He recently accepted a position as the men’s tennis professional at the Orchard Hills Tennis Club in Grand Rapids.

When looking back a year ago, Van Haitsma is thankful for how far he has come. “I’m very grateful for my recovery,” said Van Haitsma. “It’s given me a new perspective on many different things. I’ve learned to be thankful for everything God has given me. I can do simple things like playing a round of golf now. I couldn’t do that last summer. I don’t take things for granted like I used to.”