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On this week's episode, Jon Wertheim talks with Nicole Gibbs about her health scare and the new outlook she's developed since learning the news.

By Jon Wertheim
July 02, 2019

On the latest edition of the Beyond the Baseline Podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with American tennis player and Stanford alum Nicole Gibbs, who shares her story about how a routine trip to the dentist led to a shocking cancer discovery. Gibbs, 26, details how she ended up in the dentist chair; the biopsy, cancer diagnosis and surgeries that followed; how the news helped her to develop a new mindset and outlook on tennis and life; where she is in her recovery process and when she expects to return to tennis; and much more. 

Listen to the Beyond the Baseline podcast here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on Stitcher.​​​​ The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jon Wertheim: You said you said this was a time of mindset shift. What do you mean by that. What you mean by that.

Nicole Gibbs: I think it's hard to come away from being confronted with your mortality and not have some sort of attitude shift towards the world around you. I've been so blessed in my life—I have experienced very little unscheduled loss in terms of people around me. Any time my friends have dealt with illness they've they've come out the other side victorious.

So for me to have to face—even for three days—the idea that I might not be around anymore, I think it just puts everything in a completely new perspective. Maybe you think about tennis differently and view it with a lot more gratitude and also a lot less seriousness. I was like, Wow, in the scheme of all the things I worry about on a day-to-day basis, it's really kind of irrelevant. And so I think that that's led to a couple of techniques—one that I credit Phil Knight because I'm in the middle of Shoe Dog right now.

He's talking about how he just ruthlessly reinvested every penny that he had into his dream of Nike. And I was thinking about that from the tennis perspective and with this newfound like sense of my own mortality, not just as a human but maybe as a tennis player too, it's like: OK, why am I not investing like every penny that I'm earning back into my game?

I've always been very stingy, always trying to find good deals, worrying about spending too much money and worrying about my bottom line. I think moving forward I'm going to try to do tennis a lot less like that and a lot more as just this incredible experience that I'm lucky to be able to have and you know invest everything I have into it to see how good I can be. And then you know what if I don't cut it, there will be other much more stable, much less risk-taking careers for after tennis.

So I guess those were the biggest takeaways. Then just that permanent sense of gratitude that you get whatever you have a confrontation with mortality it's really profound.

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JW: That’s really profound. It sounds like you want to bet on yourself a little bigger.

NC: Oh for sure. In so many ways I have. In a lot of other ways, some of them mental, I really haven’t. I haven't allowed myself to go all in, whether it be like fear of failure or I think I've had this always sense like, Oh, I don't want to be some tennis player who loses money on tour. For some reason, that was always really shocking for me: How can you take yourself seriously if you're not making money at what you do? Now I'm like wow, that's such a shallow way to look at things. And actually I had it backwards and I think I need to look at it a little differently and look at it as an experience and finding ways to maximize not only what I can be on the court but what I can be as a person. And if that means spending money, hiring more people, getting new perspectives, so be it. The more the merrier.

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