Bryant Beard: Life Lessons From the Heart
Carmel resident Bryant Beard has always been one to take the path less traveled, and since stepping into the role as director of tennis with Indiana Premier Tennis at Community Sports & Wellness, Beard is continuing to dream big and is encouraging his students—of all ages—to take a page from his playbook: Maximize your strengths, grow from your weaknesses and live life to the fullest, regardless of what obstacles life serves you.
Bryant, a self-proclaimed global citizen, has overcome a heart defect that went undetected until he was 9 years old. He has lived and studied abroad, teaching English, before moving back to the U.S. and eventually to Carmel with his wife, Alinka, where they are raising their 8-month-old son. Beard’s unorthodox path to becoming a tennis coach and director, along with his unique perspectives on life and humanity, are why we are pleased to feature him on our cover this month.
A Medical Anomaly
Beard was born with a coarctation of the aorta—a narrowing of the aorta that leads from the heart. This type of defect is typically discovered at birth. Beard shared that around age 8 and 9, he would feel pain in his chest after running or physically exerting his body. His physician at that time discovered a murmur, and subsequent tests diagnosed Beard’s condition. To say that discovery made an impact on Beard’s life as a child is a gross understatement. But it’s how he decided to live his life that set the trajectory for Beard’s achievements and successes throughout his life and career.
“My heart has to work at a higher percentage in order for the blood to be pushed through the small narrowing,” Beard shared. “Think of it as Black Friday—prepandemic and preonline shopping. The doorways are normally fine, but when you’ve got a little bit of chaos and everybody’s trying to flood in—they’re not [fine]. For whatever reason, my condition went missed, and from what I’ve been told, that is very rare. I’m kind of a statistical anomaly. I went 9 years of age without any other severe defects or dropping dead, which happens a lot with this type of issue.”
Prior to his diagnosis, Beard participated in sports such as AAU wrestling and Little League Baseball, and he enjoyed playing at recess like a physically healthy young child.
“When I was 9, I had to stop everything I was doing at that point,” Beard said. “I was underdeveloped and very skinny because my heart wasn’t functioning properly, and I had other problems that came down to this heart issue. I had my first surgery at Riley Hospital for Children that summer and had another surgery—angioplasty—at 10. I haven’t had any surgeries since, and I get checked every year and a half now. Since becoming an adult, I’m pretty much good to go because my body’s not growing anymore, but I have to monitor it and make sure I don’t ‘overdo’ things.”
After his surgeries, Beard was released to play noncontact sports, and so he picked up tennis.
“My life was changed very drastically,” Beard reflected. “I wasn’t allowed to play [contact] sports and wasn’t allowed to eat more than 2,000 milligrams of salt a day. Every day at lunch I had to eat the same thing and was literally under the lunch table trading food. I had a lot of limitations, and I think as a result of those [limitations], and I’m sure my parents were a big part of that too—I made a philosophical change. I was a curious person and read a lot beforehand, but when you’re 9 and 10 and you have to sit back and watch everyone, you subconsciously become very detailed-oriented. And I think that’s the framework that led me to become who I am today.”
A Perpetual Student of Life
Beard participated in a tennis camp the summer before entering high school. Beard played on the men’s varsity tennis team while managing and assisting the women’s tennis team. While improving upon his skills on the court, Beard continued building his academic strengths, which turned out to be in linguistics.
Beard is multilingual and speaks English, French and Spanish fluently. While uncertain what he wanted to do post-high school graduation, Beard attended Anderson University with the initial intention of studying graphic design. Beard had developed a skill and passion for drawing during the years that he couldn’t engage in extraneous physical activity. His first weekend at the university, Beard changed his mind on his areas of study and dove into social studies and French education.
“So, I specialized in basically history, English and French for the next few years,” Beard said. “I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn’t want to be in the ‘box’ of the education system in the U.S. I didn’t really have a plan; I just knew that I wanted to keep learning languages and wanted to be somewhere new.”
Beard played tennis while attending Anderson University and graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. He also received his TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification in 2012.
Prior to being married in Anderson, Indiana, Beard and Alinka—who is of Polish and Honduras descent—traveled to Europe, where Alinka would finish studying for her master’s degree and Beard would teach English to youth. The pair lived in Germany and Sweden for the better part of a year before moving to Honduras, where they lived another year or so with her family. Beard taught in local schools, and it is there in Honduras, he learned to speak fluent Spanish.
“Being very process-oriented from a young age, I joke that I learned more after college because I had time to read,” Beard stated. “Once I got outside of the syllabus, I could just go after things, and I’ve been fortunate to have been in many diverse situations where I was uncomfortable and always learning something. When I was living in Honduras, I needed to learn Spanish to emotionally connect with my family and survive daily life—that’s a big reason why I picked it up.”
Beard’s passion for teaching and perpetual learning would be key attributes in the next chapter of his life. He and Alinka—now married—moved back to the U.S. in 2015. That same year, Beard was hired at Anderson University, where he coached Men’s D3 and Women’s D3 tennis. He was also giving private lessons and volunteering with many other teams in the community.
“I’ve enjoyed being a coach, a mentor, a brother and a father—both figuratively and literally,” Beard shared. “Looking at all the things that I’ve developed as a result of being that detail-oriented mentality is what has helped me grow really fast in the tennis industry around here, and I have some very big goals.”
This Isn’t Country Club Tennis
Originally, Beard was hired on by Community Sports & Wellness to manage the pro shop and get it up and running for the new facility that opened in December of 2020. Beard also began coaching a couple of classes before stepping into the role of director last September.
While they are a for-profit facility, Beard is exploring ways to develop scholarship opportunities for students and youth who would otherwise not have the opportunity to play tennis due to financial hardship. Meanwhile, Beard is changing things up on the court and is exposing all ages and skill levels to the world of tennis, while exposing his participants to a more diverse and rather atypical tennis club environment.
For example, one of the classes that Beard coaches is an inclusive beginner-level tennis class that celebrates Latin American culture. So, what does that look and sound like?
“We’ve been doing this twice a week on Mondays and Fridays,” Beard explained. “Anyone can come and play tennis in a beginner setting where we play salsa music and tell jokes in Spanish. Everyone is welcome—this isn’t country club tennis. I don’t want to be just another high-performance club. I want people to get involved in tennis and make it their own. That’s my personal vision, and the vision that I want the club to be.”
Beard’s vision also involves a heavy focus on the youth members—teaching them grit, mindfulness, gratitude and social skills.
“Teaching the youth is the most important thing to me because we’re planting seeds,” Beard said. “When it comes to inclusiveness, that’s happening organically already if you’re in my class because I have an eye for that and it’s important to me to make everyone feel empowered and welcome. The next thing you know, you have this tree of people that are less ethnocentric.”
When asked what his best advice—based on his life’s experiences—is to kids who have obstacles in their lives that would otherwise keep them from achieving their dreams and goals, whether they’re physical, financial or other types of limitations, Beard replied, “The key is to spend time recognizing what you’re in control of and what you’re responsible for. Be present where you are in life. Ask questions and don’t be obsessed with answers. It will take so much weight off of you as a child and as an adult. If you’re obsessed with wins and losses, you’re missing the point of growth.”
For more information on Bryant Beard and his tennis classes, visit communitysw.com.