Tennis has been a part of Mindy Alpert’s life for decades. The North High graduate was introduced to the sport by her father, and excelled from an early age. She was a ranked player in high school and college, a regular fixture at tournaments along the east coast during that time.
So when Alpert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), and had to leave her job as a vice president at Smith Barney, it was only natural that she spend the newly-free hours in her days teaching students how to succeed in the sport she loves. Former Great Neck North athletic director Peter Hugo offered her a volunteer coaching gig with the varsity girls tennis team 13 years ago, and ever since then she’s spent many of her healthy waking hours passing on her experience, adding badminton and basketball to her coaching repertoire in the meantime.
“I’ve always enjoyed coaching,” Alpert said. “Coaching is better than any medication I could take for MS.”
For Alpert, there’s no such thing as a “normal day” with MS. The illness saps her energy, leaving her drained at random intervals. She never lets her illness take her passion for life, though, and that positivity has resonated with many of the students she’s coached.
“My first year on the tennis team I was very nervous, but during every practice Mindy was so positive all the time,” Anushka Gupta, a junior on the varsity tennis team, said. “She would always reinforce that positive attitude to us. Her line that she would always tell us is ‘there’s always a party at the net’ so her positivity really helped me feel more comfortable on the team.”
Sometimes, MS interferes with Alpert’s ability to coach, so she lets students know about her limitations from the moment she meets them. It was that early disclosure that inspired Anushka and her older sister Sachita to rally their team with the goal of making a difference in the fight against MS.
“Every year she always opens up to the whole team about it,” Sachita, a senior, said. “But this is the first year that, finally, we did something to honor her.”
Once the Gupta sisters got going, the team followed suit in a unified effort to help their coach and make a positive impact. They organized a bake sale that raised more than $600 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and accepted donations for people to write their names and words of encouragement on a commemorative banner to help raise awareness of MS.
Kazin even helped arrange a benefit match between Great Neck North and Roslyn’s varsity and junior varsity teams, complete with commemorative t-shirts for both sides. Roslyn’s tennis teams also helped raise funds.
The match and everything surrounding it was an incredible experience for Alpert, and it didn’t hurt that Great Neck came away with the win too.
“It was truly one of the greatest days I’ve ever coached,” Alpert said. “It’s been awesome, I was blown away by how incredibly well both the varsity and JV team did. Coach Kazin and I really didn’t do anything other than be supportive of them, it’s all because of the team.”
There’s no known cure for MS, so any diagnosis is a life sentence. Alpert’s resilience and resolve in the face of that prognosis has been an inspiration to the whole team.
“The fact that she’s going through MS, that she lives with this every day but yet she wakes up and is able to coach, that’s what really incredible,” Sachita said. “Not just standing there either, she actually plays with us.”
Both Sachita and Anushka hope the efforts the team is putting in to help raise money and awareness will catch on with future generations of Great Neck North tennis players and kick off a new tradition of charity.
“We really want this to be a tradition for next year as well,” Anushka said. “My sister’s going to be graduating next year, but I definitely want to carry this tradition for many more years after that. We want to inform our teammates on the JV and varsity team to keep doing this and keep on learning more about MS.”