Rod Laver is being saluted at the Taste at the Cove gala but maybe it should be the other way around.
“I am honored to help people in the community,” said Laver, the Australian tennis icon and a longtime Carlsbad resident.
Laver’s amazing career including winning the four majors — Australian, French, U.S. Opens and Wimbledon — in the same year to collect the Grand Slam. He was the first man to do it in 1962, and man, he did it again in 1969. All these years later, no man has done it since.
But all those successful match points came with a cost.
Laver, 80, later had two hips and a knee replaced, which if understanding Aussie humor, means he’s another operation shy of his third Grand Slam.
It’s no joke what the San Diego Sports Medicine Foundation does, the benefactor of the Taste at the Cove held in La Jolla on Aug. 29. While SDSMF doctors have healed countless professional athletes, it’s what it does for the area’s youth that piqued Laver’s interest.
The SDSMF was founded in 2002 and has graciously performed more than 100 surgeries, costing more than $2 million, for youngsters whose finances are tight. It has conducted north of 10,000 free physicals for prep players. It has placed 13 athletic trainers in high schools.
When Laver heard all that, he grinned. When Laver learned he was sharing the marquee with another sports star, his grin widened.
Larry Duensing, who recently retired as Carlsbad High’s athletic trainer, will also draw the Taste at the Cove spotlight.
The humble Laver is the event’s Community Legend, an award that is bestowed on a Hall of Fame caliber player and person.
“He’s the Michael Jordan of his sport,” said Dr. David Chao, the grand master behind the 17th annual shindig. “And he always looks to contribute to the community.”
Duensing, who also worked with the Padres, spent 20 years making sure the Carlsbad Lancers were looked after. He’s taking a bow as the Medical Champion honoree.
“Athletic training is not as much a job as it is a calling,” Duensing said. “Working with youth and high school athletes has been especially rewarding because you are helping kids learn how to take care of their bodies so they can continue to play sports.”
Laver knows about being banged-up and if he can help someone get right, the lefty is at-the-ready.
“Unfortunately playing sports can cause some injuries and to some families those injuries can cause a burden on them,” Laver said. “Thanks to SDSMF, the kids are getting the necessary medical attention that they need before and during sports without having to put a burden financially on their family.”
But that top-shelf care comes with a cost and that’s where the Taste at the Cove comes in. Dinner, drinks, entertainment and a silent and live auction are on the schedule and good luck finding a more beautiful setting than the La Jolla Cove.
All the best, too, in finding two more deserving men than Laver and Duensing. They assist our youth fill all those idle hours through athletics by helping getting them fit.
“Playing sports is associated with positive outcomes for youth, and a serious injury can put that opportunity in jeopardy,” Duensing said. “Receiving appropriate care not only aids in rehabilitation but also the return to play.”
If you’re boomeranging to the Taste at the Cove, you know the fun to be had. If you’re making your debut, get ready to swap tales with Laver and Duensing, while paying forward in helping youngsters long on athletic dreams but short on cash.
Laver is busy preparing for next month’s Laver Cup in Chicago but he made time for youngsters keen on athletics.
“I believe that kids being involved in sports helps them to keep a healthy body, a healthy mind,” Laver said. “It can help them on a good path for the rest of their life.”
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports