Nurse Doubles as Tennis Guru Despite Childhood Polio

Lessons in adversity made Vincent Liu a better teacher, at Johns Hopkins Hospital and on court

Released: 12/16/2013 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing
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Newswise — It didn’t take long for Johns Hopkins Hospital Nurse Case Manager Vincent Liu to realize he was never going to be just an “average” guy. When childhood polio in Hong Kong left him with an atrophied right leg, some might have assumed that life for Liu was going to be an uphill battle. But Liu refused to see it that way, and whether at work or play, he pushes others to see look beyond their limitations as well.

Now a player for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and a year-round coach for children and adults, Liu wasn’t destined to be a natural at the sport. After practicing alone, day after day, month after month against a wall, he finally got his chance to play, as a high school senior on the junior varsity team. Despite little experience and only one strong leg, Liu was determined to improve. After two more years of hard work and caring instruction, Liu found himself on the McDaniel College tennis team. He has never looked back.

Tennis grew into a passion for Liu, who became a coach so he could teach kids the same lesson he had learned—you can rise above your circumstances.

“When I was young, I was teased a lot because of the polio,” recalls Liu, who came to the United States as a teenager. “I knew I had some limitations, but I never looked down on myself or felt sorry. That’s one lesson I like to teach my students: No boundaries can hold you back from something you really want to do.”

As a nurse, Liu feels a strong link between his profession and his sport. “Just like nursing, coaching is about helping people,” he says. “Nurses help patients understand their conditions and give them comfort and courage to move forward. It’s the same way with coaching: I try to teach my students knowledge of the game, how to play better, but not without teaching them the importance of passion and willingness to learn and listen.”

Aside from his normal coaching, Liu spent one summer coaching the daughters of his fellow Department of Medicine Nurse Case Manager Tina Tiburzi. “He had been teaching a long time, and he voluntarily instructed my two girls,” she says. Even while her oldest daughter moved from the number five doubles spot to number two, Tiburzi says, “Vincent would not accept compensation for his time. He said it was for the love of the game. And that is what he has—love and passion.”

Liu believes that being a nurse and a coach are about giving back. “I have a good memory of myself in the hospital being treated for polio. I was crying one night from the pain when a nurse came into my room, sat next to me, and talked with me. She said, ‘How are you doing?’ She didn’t have to do that, but she did, and I have always remembered that experience and the comfort of that nurse. From that moment on, I knew nursing was a good profession for me.”

Being both a coach and a nurse hasn’t always been easy, says Liu. “Do I sometimes wish I had two strong legs? Of course,” says Liu. “But do I let the fact that I don’t stop me from doing what I love? Never.” Even skipping lunches to make tennis practice in the afternoon, he says it’s definitely worth it. “My coaches were willing to help me learn all those years ago, and I want to give the same opportunities to my students today,” he says. “I just really love tennis. I may be shuffling on the court in a few more years, but as long as I can breathe, I plan to play.”

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