–By Ottawa Sportspage, for Tennis For Life Ottawa
Nick Patterson’s first glimpse of the local living legend of tennis was as a teenager peering through the bushes at the Ottawa Tennis & Lawn Bowling Club.
Patterson wasn’t spying on Colin McAlpin per se – that was his summer job, to weed the garden at the club in Old Ottawa South.
“I was a court maintenance guy, and I’d see Colin teaching all day long, so I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do,’” recounts Patterson, now a tennis instructor of over 35 years himself. “Colin used to teach from 8 in the morning to 6 at night – when you’re city champion, people want lessons from you – and then he’d bike over to Elmdale and go and win a tournament after teaching all day. Phenomenal.”
Patterson says it’s somewhat strange to call a long-time friend and someone only 3 years his senior his idol, but that’s how Patterson regards McAlpin.
McAlpin, now 57, began winning titles at a young age and hasn’t stopped ever since; he owns 7 national junior crowns, was an NCAA champ with the University of Florida, is a 10-time men’s singles city champ and remains competitive against local competitors of all ages, has won multiple Canadian senior titles (including last year’s men’s over-55 tournament in Ottawa) and captained Team Canada at the ITF Super Seniors World Championships in 2012.
“I really grew up admiring Colin,” signals Patterson, thanking McAlpin for helping to show him the way as a coach too, lauding the OTLBC head pro’s ability to communicate and break down a technique to make it simple to understand.
“Colin always had time in his busy schedule to talk. He was always very generous,” adds Patterson, who now coaches at 8 clubs locally and has introduced the sport to thousands more through a tennis in school program.
McAlpin volleys back the praise for Patterson’s work as a coach, noting his enthusiasm spreads like wildfire, particularly with kids.
“Nick loves tennis,” McAlpin underlines. “People can tell if you really enjoy what you’re doing. If you enjoy what you’re doing, they’re going to enjoy learning from you. When we’re doing our group lessons with all kinds of people of different levels and ages, they always have a good time.”
First-time summer camp teammates
In 1984, McAlpin had asked Patterson to help him teach summer camps. But then once McAlpin heard Patterson had already accepted a job at another tennis club, he encouraged him to keep his commitment.
Following a varsity hockey career at Dalhousie University and a career in the technology industry, Patterson will at last get the chance to work alongside McAlpin for camps this summer, back at OTLBC.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to work with Colin 33 years ago, so this will be the first time now,” laughs Patterson. “I’ve been pretty excited about it ever since he asked me to join his team last winter.”
A love of tennis throughout their lives a commonality for the pair – from the time Patterson was crawling in the dirt looking up to McAlpin, to now when they stand side-by-side on the court and share that mutual passion with their pupils.
“I have taught people 4 years old to 80,” notes Patterson, who’s noticed many young adults buying packages to take lessons with their mother or father, and parents alongside younger children.
“That’s pretty neat,” he highlights. “There aren’t too many sports where you can do that. It really is a family sport.”