KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) Daniel Henry remembers the days after he lost his mother. They were dark and chaotic. He spent many of them in his grandmother’s bed, only able to grieve.
He only found purpose in tennis.
“What I really wanted was to play tennis,” said Henry. “I don’t know. It was the one thing that made me feel better. It was like I was there, I didn’t really feel like I was an orphan. I didn’t really feel like I had lost so much.”
Henry was 14 when his mother Gina Rickman died after a battle with breast cancer. His father, also called Daniel Henry, died of brain cancer when Henry was 5.
“It’s just another experience that adds to what really makes me what I am,” said Henry. “Because I could think, what if my mom never died? What kind of person would I be? And I’m sure I wouldn’t be that resilient; I know I wouldn’t be that motivated.”
Motivated is exactly what comes to mind when you look at the resume of the 21-year-old from Kalamazoo. This spring he graduated from Kalamazoo College with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He was a presidential ambassador and the captain of his nationally ranked tennis team.
Tennis has remained his only constant through the loss of his parents and later the death of his grandmother, June Cotton.
‘In my grandmother’s case, when she died of an aneurysm, I thought, no one will feel sorry for me. I got that out of my mind a long time ago, ”said Henry. “You can feel sorry for yourself for a long time, but I’ve learned that I think people want to see you try.”
Henry grew up in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood, which he described as a side of the city that can at times be neglected in terms of resources. He remembers a friend on his street who was allowed to stay out of school if he helped his mother with chores around the house.
It was Henry’s mother who gave him tennis and a way out.
“A lot of times I’m on the field and I know this person has been teaching $ 100 an hour three times a week for so long and I started playing in high school; I had under 20, 30 private lessons in total, ”said Henry.
But he said he leveled the playing field with his work ethic.
“You get the cards you get, and then you literally have to make the most of it,” he said.
In June of this year, Henry posted a tweet explain his struggles and successes. It was meant to show his community how he has risen above his circumstances.
It went viral and inspired others he’d never met.
“I think I’ve even talked about it, I’ve come to understand that I’ve grown so much,” Henry said, explaining how he got hysterical when he talked about his life and all his losses. “What really opens it up to other people going through that sort of thing is having someone who is a little more updated with what their baggage has been in their lives and is able to lead by example and lead by giving advice.”
That’s what Henry is doing now. Aside from working to earn his law degree by teaming up with attorney Vin Johnson in West Michigan, Henry has become chief tennis coach. It is true that makes the most sense. The Kalamazoo Central star coaches his former rival and his mother’s alma mater, following in her footsteps with Loy Norrix.
“Coaching is important now. I want to make these players better, ”said Henry.
And he uses the voices that still guide him to his mother, grandmother, and father to repeat the wisdom they left him.
“I think (my mom) would come and say, ‘Imagine what they would have done if you weren’t there,’” he said.
“I feel that their will, their love, and their desire that I succeed and prosper is instilled in my mentors, instilled in Vin Johnson and (Kalamazoo College) Coach (Mark) Riley. That’s my mom and my grandmother now, ”he continued. “ They’re the ones who check me in and make sure I do things the right way and make sure I honor my mom and dad and the memory of my grandmother properly. Just think of 13, 14-year-old Daniel, motionless, if I knew these things were coming, if I knew there was a chance waiting for me, I wouldn’t have been in bed anymore. I would have been in court or something. I think it would have been very motivating to know that better things were to come. “
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