Before Calvin Curtis, a senior tennis player at Agua Fria High School, competed at the Division II state tournament, before he climbed the ranks to become the Owls’ No. 1 player, before he ever stumbled onto a tennis court and vouched to give the sport a try, he languished alone in his bedroom — a dark, lonely place that, along with the constant playing of video games, served as an escape.
An escape Curtis desperately craved at the time.
On September 17, 2013, Curtis’ older brother, Carter, was killed in a car accident. A freshman at Agua Fria and two years older than Calvin, he had been on his way to a church event in a car full of friends. Their car was struck by an oncoming vehicle, resulting in his brother’s fatality.
Curtis became numb in response to his brother’s unexpected passing. An accomplished student, a Boy Scout in his childhood, active in multiple sports and extra-curriculars, Curtis flipped the switch and became disengaged with it all.
“I kind of emotionally put up barriers and walls around myself. I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with anyone or feel emotions because at any point I could just start crying,” he said.
The only coping method he knew came in the form of an Xbox game console, stored away in his bedroom. After school, throughout the summer months, the only way to escape the absence of his older brother came in the form of burying himself in another reality, controller in hand.
This, an unhealthy coping mechanism he now acknowledges, saw him put on nearly 60 pounds of what he calls “depression fat.”
But this contradicts everything Curtis had previously subscribed to. He was a great student, but soon began to see his grades slip. He had done martial arts for numerous years, but removed himself from it. And most alarming to him was the excessive weight he quickly put on.
“I realized the only thing that’s in my way of being fit is myself,” he said.
So, he vowed to redirect the current trajectory of his life.
It started toward the end of his freshman year, and early sophomore year.
“When I wanted to turn my life back around I was looking for something to do and I joined tennis. That’s when I decided I’m in a sport, I’m trying to fix the problems in my life, and I knew I needed to lose all this ‘depression fat’ that I built up. I started working on it,” he said.
Soon after, in the spring of his sophomore year, Curtis began to notice his revamped lifestyle paying off. He was shedding weight and got back to what he was used to — thanks to his mother, who he said inspired him to get fit and routinely made him healthy meals — he saw his grades on the mend and he was enjoying the sport of tennis he had recently started.
Several of his friends were on the tennis team, and they pleaded for Curtis to try out. He did the spring of his sophomore year, and soon became enamored with the sport.
Now, as Curtis is less than two weeks away from graduating high school, it’s impossible to do anything but look back on the long, rollercoaster path he’s taken to get to where he is today.
Just three years into playing tennis, Curtis spent much of this season as the Owls’ No. 1 player. He was instrumental in getting Agua Fria to the Division II team state tournament. He also qualified for the doubles’ state tournament, alongside partner David Morales. It was the first time in Curtis’s three-year career that he had appeared in the state tournament.
He spoke at length with the West Valley View about the healing and grieving process of losing a loved one. The word he frequently circled back to was “progress.”
Even Curtis is overwhelmingly proud of the progress, for lack of a better term, that he’s made.
“I’ve just made a ton of progress,” he said. “I’ve made a ton of progress physically. I’ve made a ton of progress in my performance in tennis. I’ve made a ton of progress in my school work. I’ve made a lot of progress emotionally, recovering and being able to function again like a normal kid.
“That’s not to say that, therefore, I don’t still mourn and grieve over the loss over my brother, but I’ve gotten to the point where that mourning, that grieving, that suffering doesn’t inhibit my ability to function.”
Instead of stunting his future by continuing to grieve and mourn, Curtis has tackled it head on.
Upon graduating high school, Curtis will serve a two-year mission for his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spreading the word of Jesus Christ around the world. The location of his mission is yet to be determined, he said.
And when he returns, he will study mechanical engineering — “I love math; that’s my thing” — at Arizona State University. He boasts a clean 4.0 grade point average at Agua Fria, is an Eagle Scout, has 55 Merit badges and looks forward to the hearty scholarship waiting for him at ASU. He’ll put those plans on pause for the next two years until he returns from his mission.
Curtis clarified that tennis was not something he viewed as an escape of the grieving process. The escape was video games.
Tennis, he said in more or less words, was healthy. He loved the one-on-one competition and the team-sport aspect a match provides. After doing marching band for four years — following in the footsteps of his older sister and brother — Curtis wanted to find something else to do in the off-season band months.
He found tennis. Or did tennis find him?
The relationship seemed to benefit both parties. Through tennis, Curtis became motivated again — mentally, physically and academically. Through Curtis, Agua Fria tennis clinched a postseason berth.
And because of it all, the entire process and what’s unfolded over the last five years, Curtis is eager to leave his own print on the world. His brother will be there every step of the way, as a sign of encouragement and motivation to hold forth.
That feeling is something only a brother could provide.
“I’ve just been always very driven to doing my best in everything I do,” he said. “I know that I’m capable of achieving something, and when I know I’m capable of it, I push myself to be able to do it.”