By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor—Sherbrooke, Que.
Josh Lehr won his 50th and 51st sanctioned tennis titles last month at the Atlantic junior championship, capturing the under-18 singles and doubles championship in P.E.I.
The 17-year-old from St. John’s is the best junior-aged tennis player in the province, yet Lehr can’t help but wonder if he’d be even better right now if it wasn’t for a nasty incident a year and half ago on the ice.
In addition to tennis, Lehr was a decent hockey player. He played all-star coming up through the St. John’s Caps minor system, and wore the Barons’ colours while attending high school at Bishops College.
It was during a Barons’ high school against the Gonzaga Vikings game on Dec. 3, 2011 — he knows the exact date — Lehr was creamed at mid-ice by a blindside hit to the head.
Make no mistake, Lehr feels it was a dirty play, though he stops short of revealing the culprit.
Lehr was concussed and for 10 months suffered through almost-daily headaches.
What’s worst, he didn’t do a thing during that time — no hockey, no tennis, nothing.
“The hardest part, except for basically feeling miserable for 10 months, was doing nothing. And that really set me back in tennis. It was awful.
“I pretty much missed a full year. Missed nationals, and two Atlantics, and everything else.
“The whole season was a wash.”
Lehr, who will enter Memorial University for the first time in the fall, returned to the court in mid-September, and appeared to pick up where he left off, winning the provincial U18 singles and doubles indoor titles in December.
But the ages of 16, 17 and 18 are critical years in the development of an athlete, and Lehr feels he has been playing catch-up since returning to the court.
“It was one of my biggest years and I missed it,” he said of the 2012 season.
“I played pretty well at winter nationals … went to a tie-breaker in the first set to the guy who won it all, and I won my first-round match against a top player. And I won the Atlantics.
“But I still can’t help but my ask myself where I’d be in my development now if I hadn’t missed a full year. If I had kept playing a couple of more nationals, with a full year of training under my belt, I could have been up to the next level.
“But what can you do. You can’t dwell on it. I just try to forget about it.”
Here in Sherbrooke, Lehr’s second Canada Summer Games — he competed in Summerside, P.E.I., in 2009 — he hopes to reach the medal round in singles and doubles.
“I’m confident coming off the Atlantic win,” he said. “I’m playing well of late, training hard and hopefully I’ll keep that going and maybe pull off an upset.”
As for hockey, Lehr has not skated since that Dec. 3, 2011 game. His skates, in fact, are too small for him now.
He may buy a new pair down the road and play some rec hockey, but that’s not on his mind now.
“Am I soured?” he asks rhetorically. “Maybe a little bit.
“I mean, I wouldn’t change anything in terms of not playing. I loved the game, and I still do love the game.
“But I just don’t want to get hurt again, especially now where I’m playing tennis.
“It’s not worth the risk.”