Tennis player thrives, despite lack of sight

Posted at 8:39 AM, May 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-25 09:49:18-04
Imagine that through years of work, rehab and trials, you are back doing what you live to do. That is Rob Spiering's story. Rob is not only playing but thriving in the sport he loves, despite his lack of sight. 
In some ways, Rob Spiering is like many tennis players. But in others, he's not like any athlete you've ever known. 
Rob was three days into a study abroad program in London when he was walking and was hit by a car. 
"You get them back as an infant and that's where you start," said mother Vicki Spiering. 
"You do a lot of praying," said father Kurt Spiering. 
They prayed and Rob fought to make a comeback. From an accident that almost ended not only his tennis career but his life.
"It's a tough story to tell, it's tough to think about it. I try not to think about it too much, because the more you think about it, I think there are only negative things that can come from it," Rob said.
Vicki remembers getting a call no parent wants to hear.
"It was a very quick phone call.  Rob was in an accident. Paramedics are here. I couldn't really talk. She said I gotta go, click," she said.
A traumatic brain injury put Rob in a coma for eight days.
"I don't remember two months probably," Rob said.
"Wimbledon was going on. So I would rub his leg, and so I would rub his leg and I would just go 'Rob, you gotta wake up because Federer is really playing well,'" Vicki remembered.
It took three weeks at a hospital overseas until Rob was stable enough to be med-backed to Chicago. And finally, his family saw a glimpse of improvement with touches of humor.
"And the woman [at the airport] said, 'Are you a Packers fan?' and he said 'Yeah, yeah  I  am,' and she said 'What do you think of Aaron Rodgers?' Now this isn't a guy who really hasn't spoken in six weeks and he said 'Best player ever at his position,'" Kurt said.
Rob progressed and when things hit a plateau, both he and his family were convinced his recovery could go further.
"I didn't know where that ball was, I would swing and miss all the time," Rob said.
Vicki said there was a really clear turning point when they met Mark Lydecker, a physical therapist.
"I've been here 14 years now at the Froedert and Medical College Sports Medicine Center, I've never met a patient like him," Lydecker said.
Rob lost all sight in his left eye, so Lydecker, who works with athletes, came up with specific techniques to help regain his tennis skills.
"We'd have him follow [a ball] from one side, up and over to the other," Lydecker said. "It's been a really cool journey that I get a little choked up about, he's a good guy."
Rob was able to make a comeback, both on and off the court, at Concordia University.
"The first game he won, yes, I jumped for joy and then fell to the ground crying," VIcki said.
Now with a 19-5 record, Rob's not just back, he's flourishing.
"I don't want to think that I 'm any different than anyone else," he said. "I think I 'm just out here, living the life I want to live."
"Knowing what he's gone through, he is absolutely a miracle and an inspiration to me," Kurt said. " I tell him he's my hero, win or lose."