Woodburn's Lonergan courts national success
Longtime educator and coach Tom Lonergan has been synonymous with tennis at Woodburn High School for the majority of his former students.
Although he has been retired for two years, Lonergan continues to lead the boys tennis program each spring at Woodburn. However, retirement has afforded the Woodburn native an opportunity he never had as a teacher at the high school — the chance to compete nationally — and Lonergan is taking full advantage of that now.
"It's kind of like a dream, to have a goal and to be able to have something you can go for," Lonergan said. "I'm 65, and in some ways, my best athletic days could be ahead of me."
For years, Lonergan flirted with competitive tennis when he worked full time, playing in local tournaments against fellow peers in his age bracket. But the Pacific Northwest has never been a hub for the national tennis scene and time constraints kept him from participating in a much larger scale.
Since his retirement, Lonergan has committed himself that much more to the sport and is beginning to see the work pay off this year. When Lonergan turned 65, he bumped up to a new bracket for players between ages 65 and 69. With youth on his side, so to speak, he has rocketed up the national rankings since the beginning of the year, winning three of the eight tournaments he's entered since Jan. 1.
That has bumped Lonergan up to 15th in the United States in his bracket in 2019, and he currently sits as the No. 2 men's tennis player in the state at his age.
"This year, I've turned a corner," Lonergan said. "I've had a pretty good year and have gotten to 15th on the year, and that's only halfway through."
Tennis rankings are determined on a daily basis, based on how a player has done during the past 365 days. Since he didn't enter the 65-year age bracket until January, that has put Lonergan in the 40s since July of 2018. But with many of the top tournaments left to play in Minnesota, New Jersey and Louisiana this year, Lonergan is confident that he can continue to play at this high of a level throughout the year and make a run for a top-15 ranking.
Lonergan has been an athlete his whole life, playing at baseball at Western Oregon University before trying out for the Major Leagues after graduation. But for as good as he is at tennis, it's hard to believe he didn't pick up the sport until he was 30-years old.
He has kept in shape throughout his life, playing tennis regularly while also serving as referees for soccer and basketball in his retirement.
"I hit six out of seven days, and I do a lot of core work, core strengthening," Lonergan said. "A lot of tennis-specific sprints. Stuff my high school kids do too."
As he's gotten older, he's had to dial back his training to make sure he maintains his health. While he has had both hips replaced, he works hard to make sure his knees are in good health, something vital to maintain his ability on the court.
"You have to be careful, because your body doesn't recover as fast and you have to be careful of what you do," Lonergan said. "I used to run a lot. You've got to protect your body."
Lonergan compares his aspiration to compete on a national level to that of 15-year old Coco Gauff, who advanced past the third round of Wimbledon earlier in the month.
"I bet her passion isn't any greater than mine right now," Lonergan said. "I have a really strong passion, and other than family, it's No. 1. I feel almost like a college athlete that's training for football or whatever. That kind of makes life fun. It makes it a lot better."
Lonergan has gone up against players who have Wimbledon experience, athletes who played professional tennis in their youth and continue to compete on a national level.
"When I started playing 30 years ago, they would have kicked my rear. We weren't even close," Lonergan said. "But now, I've caught up with them after playing for 30 years."
Lonergan's passion has pushed him to continuously get better each year, something he says is possible in tennis where players can make up for decreased athleticism by improving in their strokes as they get older.
Now that he has entered the national scene, Lonergan is excited to see just how far he can go and just how high up the rankings he can get. While he's won a few low-level tournaments this year, he's got his eyes on bigger draws coming in the summer and fall, which could really put him on the map.
"It's kind of a dream to see if I can win one of these national tournaments," he said.
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