Florida men take long road to Rancho Mirage

October 29, 2010 06:24 PM
Florida section players Shane Russell and Hal Major at the League National Championships.
By J. Fred Sidhu

Rancho Mirage, Calf. – For players, it’s a great feeling to reach the 2010 USTA League 4.0 Senior National Championships at the Mission Hills Country Club…no matter how long it took to get here.
You certainly couldn’t fault two members of the USTA Florida Section Men’s Senior 4.0 team if they felt a little bit tired after making their way to Rancho Mirage from Florida.
Shane Russell of Gulf Breeze, Fla., a business traveler for 20 years, thought he would get to Rancho Mirage early for the USTA Senior Nationals to help him get acclimated to the time change and to practice with his team. 
"The last two days have probably been the worst experience I’ve had," said Russell, who left his home this last Wednesday to make his way to the California desert.
"Because of a line of thunderstorms that hit Atlanta, they shut Atlanta (airport) down for the whole afternoon," Russell said. "We waited for six hours at the Pensacola airport and never could get out."
Eventually, Russell and his wife were put on a flight from the airport at Fort Walton Beach, Fla. at 5:30 a.m. this last Thursday.  They awoke at 2 a.m. to get to the airport on time when they caught their flight to Atlanta. 
"We get to Atlanta fine at 7:20 and sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes and we just about missed my flight to Salt Lake City," said Russell who managed to catch his flight, which left late.
"Leaving Atlanta late, we arrived in Salt Lake with about five minutes to get to my next gate to Palm Springs, knowing that the next flight available is about nine hours away," Russell said.
After running through the airport, Russell and his wife arrived at the gate before the plane left, but the gate had already been closed and they were not allowed on the plane.
Russell did not want to wait nine hours so he and his wife took a flight from Salt Lake City to John Wayne Airport located in Orange County near Palm Springs.
"We get to Orange County at almost five o’clock and we rent a car," Russell said. "We’re not used to the rush hour traffic of California and it was two hours later that we finally got out of the Orange County area and headed to Palm Springs."
It was about 8:45 p.m. when Russell and his wife finally reached their hotel where they had to wait almost an hour for their room to be ready. 
"My wife and I were both extremely tired. Usually I would go and hang out with my tennis buddies, but I went straight to bed," said Russell, who is playing in the USTA League Nationals for the first time. 
Russell’s teammate, 52-year-old Hal Major of Pensacola, Fla. began his journey to California this last Friday at 4:45 a.m. and made it to the airport in plenty of time, only to realize that he had forgotten his plane ticket.
He rushed back home for the ticket and made it back to the airport about 35 minutes before take-off. However, Major had to wait in line at the ticket counter. 
"By the time we got to the ticket counter, they said the flight was boarded although it was 20 minutes before it took off," said Major, who was trying to figure out what to do. 
"Ten minutes later, they paged me for the gate because I already had a boarding pass. By the time I get to the gate, the plane is pulling away," Major said.
After booking another flight, which was scheduled six hours later, Major eventually made it to Dallas, where he had a lengthy layover. Later in the evening, his flight landed at the Palm Springs airport.
Major took a taxi from the airport directly to the Mission Hill Country Club where the traditional player party and just started to wind down around 8:20 p.m.
"There were still a lot of people here," Major said. "My teammates did a good job. Before they took the food away, they made a big plate for me and had it on the table. I was just happy to be here."
The trip was well worth it as he enjoyed his first trip to the Coachella Valley. "This is my first trip here. You love the energy in these tournaments. That is what is so fun," he said. "Everybody buzzing around, you come early and scout the other teams. It’s fun."
When asked what he had learned from his experience, a smiling Major said, "Make sure you’re there (at the airport) in plenty of time and make sure you bring your ticket with you."