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Optimum Performance: Wimbledon begins with a special connection for local fitness guru Mackie Shilstone

Wimbledon, London – During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, a 30-year old U.S. Army Captain — commander of Company A, 94th Chemical Mortar Battalion, who graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Tulane University — was ordered to bombard a town and then move in and secure it, to clear the way for General George S. Patton’s tanks to roll through on their way into Germany.

While clearing a house, the Captain moved into a room at the same time as a German combatant. On that day far from home, only one man would walk out alive to live and fight another day.

Flash forward seventy years later to the upcoming Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the oldest tennis tournament dating to 1877. Held each year at the All English Club, the tournament is still played on a grass surface, which is described as “lawn tennis.”

Competitors of all ages and nationalities converge and live in or adjacent to the small town of Wimbledon — a suburban district of southwest London, England. The town is divided into two sections — the “village,” and the “town,” which is part of the modern development, since the construction of the railway station in 1838.

For the next few weeks, I will be living in that town, which is within walking distance of the tournament and almost everything else. We all will be one big, happy family, until the competition begins for the male and female players.

Unlike the heroics of the Captain and his fellow U.S. comrades, the tennis competitors will battle it out until the last two men and women standing will face off over the July 4 weekend to see who will become the next Wimbledon Champions. Along the way, those players that lose will have the luxury and frustration to move on to the next tennis skirmish.

While there is no comparison between what the Captain and my client, Serena Williams — the No. 1 rated female tennis player — must do to survive and win, there are some mundane connections. For instance, the Captain and Serena — both in their thirties (never tell a woman’s age and live) — face younger opponents in battle and competition, respectively.

The combatant and the competitor must carry their own baggage — their emotions, aches, pains, frustrations, and let’s not forget the fear — into their respective battles. And let’s also not forget the loneliness that comes with the pressures and challenges of leading men into combat, or being No. 1 in the world — where each competitor along the way is trying to take your head off or serve up a body shot.

At times, both will want to seek the security, warmth, and caring of their team surrounding them — those individuals who see the backside story of the battle, or in my case, the unglamorous side of pro sports and the toll it can take on the competitor without a strong mindset and above all, faith.

With the start of Wimbledon in a few days, I know my champion will have the mindset to do her best against formidable competitors. She will possess the skill set to wield her racquet — much like the Knights of the Round Table in King Arthur’s court did centuries before to fend off the invading armies, who challenged the Empire.

As for the Captain — who was alone with his German foe in that small room — he later told his younger brother, a West Point cadet, “It was him or me. Luckily, I shot first and solved the problem.”

You are reading my column because the Captain lived that day to go on and fight and open the way for Patton’s tanks to keep rolling. That man was my father. Now, you know the rest of the story.

Let’s go Serena. And, I know what drives me too.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at

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