Home » HEADLINES AND FEATURES, Lead, Randy Walker, Top Stories » “Miracle” J.C. Aragone, The University of Virginia’s No. 5 Player, Qualifies For The US Open




By Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

 

I asked J.C. Aragone whether he liked the movie “Rudy” or “Hoosiers” better.

He paused while sitting in a interview cubicle at the Bud Collins Media Room inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and said he actually liked the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

It was an appropriate response given what the Yorba Linda, Calif., 22-year-old had been through in the last five years and also what he had just accomplished, which could be turned into a Hollywood screenplay it’s so incredible. Five years earlier, he was in a diabetic coma. Three months earlier, he as playing No. 5 singles on the University of Virginia’s NCAA Championship winning team with 92 other college tennis players ranked higher than him in the national collegiate rankings. Five days earlier, he was not even in the field of 128-players in the US Open qualifying round. One year earlier, he was in New York City, but as an intern for JP Morgan Chase. Now, he is in the main draw men’s singles field at the U.S. Open.

Aragone is now healthy, learning to live and play a high-level of tennis with a diabetes monitor sewn to his left hip and checking his blood sugar on every changeover and even needing to inject himself with insulin shots on some changeovers. The fact that Aragone was the No. 5 player on a college tennis team (albeit the national champions) and that he was able to win three matches against some of the world’s best in the U.S. Open qualifying tournament is simply outstanding and almost unfathomable. He ironically slammed forehands and backhands this week in front of backdrops branded with the words “JP Morgan” and “Chase,” the major sponsor of the U.S. Open and the company who he represented last summer as an intern in high net worth portfolio management. The fact that he was even in the US Open qualifying tournament was a semi-”Miracle” as one of the players who was awarded a qualifying wild card, Marcus Giron, slipped into the qualifying field as a direct entry, due to three player withdrawals, opening up the wild card invitation for him to play at the last minute. He did not even have an ATP World Tour ranking until last Fall. He finished his senior season in May as the No. 93-ranked singles player in the collegiate tennis rankings. He didn’t even qualify for the NCAA singles tournament, but here he is qualifying for the U.S. Open!

His story has so many amazing twists and turns and different fascinating angles that it perhaps best to post the transcript of the interview I had with him and transcribed following his 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win over Akira Santillan of Australia in the U.S. Open qualifying final.

 

QUESTION: Congratulations again. Obviously, it’s got to be an amazing accomplishment. Did you have expectations on Monday that this would be the result? What were you kind of thinking when you were coming in?

ARAGONE: Well it was a pretty stressful weekend just because I was waiting for Mark Giron, he was the highest-ranked wildcard, so he was three out and then two and the one. I was here waiting until like Monday afternoon just to get in. When I found out, you know, I had to get ready to play Tuesday, I was not really expecting much. I was just happy to be out here. This is an unbelievable opportunity. I got out there, I was a little nervous as usual and got to a good start, and after I got through the first one, I was like, you know, maybe, you never know, yeah … Tuesday was so hot, so I was lucky to get Wednesday off and kind of get in the right mindset, thinking, I just won a round at the US Open qualifying.

QUESTION: Today things were going so well first set. You really were hitting the ball well and then two on the second set, still looked like you were doing pretty well. Did you start to think about how many games left or how many points left? Did you get a little nervous or it was just him playing better?

ARAGONE: No, I was trying to hang on. The guy is really good, he’s a talented player. He came up with some big shots at the right time. Really, I wasn’t so much focused on the score. I was just trying to hang on and survive, and …

QUESTION:         Big crowd support for you.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, the crowd was unbelievable and then once we got into the third, that first game was huge. Especially after losing 6-2, I needed a little boost of confidence.

QUESTION:         Did you come to New York knowing that you were going to be the next wildcard? Did (USTA Director of Men’s Tennis) Brian (Boland) call you?

ARGONE:             Yes, they told me I was the first alternate for a wildcard.

QUESTION:         Okay. When, about what time did you find out on Monday that you got it?

ARAGONE:          I came Monday, I went to hit, and then afterwards, they were like, “Hey you’ve got to go to credentials” and I was like “Shoot, I’m getting kicked out.” They don’t want me here anymore.

QUESTION:         Like you’re a kid who snuck in.

ARAGONE:          They barely wanted me to get in the training room getting tape, so I was like “Whatever, it’s fine, I’ll go back home,” and then they were like …Once they gave me credentials, I was like, “Woo.”

QUESTION:         So, it was Monday?

ARAGONE:          Monday, yeah. I had 24 hours to prepare, but again, you know, I did not think I was going to get in and luckily Marcos is the last guy in, so I was like, “thank God.” Sometimes you need a little bit of luck in life.

QUESTION:         You played mainly at number 5 singles, in Virginia? I guess between 1 and 5, it wasn’t really a lot of difference, I understand, but you primarily played 5?

ARAGONE:          Yeah 5-6, it you want to say it. I played 6 my first two years and really 5 my last two. We had an unbelievable team. There’s nothing you can really say. I mean people can say, “Oh, you were stacking,” but I don’t think that was really the case. We all understood our role. We all knew what we needed to do to get it done. It’s always pretty clear when people are stacking. Everyone in our line-up pretty much took care of business.

QUESTION:         It’s a very good team.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I mean, we still had some nail biters, but again with college tennis you never know, the no-ad (scoring), the pressure is a little different. I feel more pressure in college tennis than out here, to be honest with you. It’s a different environment. I was playing 5. Definitely humbles you, definitely makes you appreciate when you get to come to places like this knowing that, where you come from … So for me, this unbelievable.

QUESTION:         What does playing number 5 singles at Virginia, or in college tennis, that competition compare to what you just played the last three rounds?

ARAGONE:          Tennis is a game of inches. Man, you’d be surprised. Some of these 5 guys compared to the guys out here. It’s just a couple inches better. Gotta serve a little bit better, return a little bit better, but from the ground you don’t see that much of a difference, to be honest with you. I mean, I struggled at 5. I had very tough matches. It’s not like I was winning … Guys probably think that I was winning matches 0 and 0, and that wasn’t the case. I think it’s just a couple inches here. These guys just are more professional. You can tell they manage matches better, but just small details.

QUESTION:         JC, you put a period between J and C or you usually go without the period? JC?

ARAGONE:          Periods usually. Well, I don’t write it with periods, but …You can throw in a period. Juan Cruz

QUESTION:         Last summer, you were in New York and you were working for Chase?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I worked at JP Morgan. It was an unbelievable experience. I didn’t hit a single ball that summer. I was working like a dog.

QUESTION:         Did you get paid, or was it like …

ARAGONE:          No, I got paid. Don’t worry. They take care of their employees. It was a lot of fun. I’ve kind of gotten all different kinds of perspectives, going from playing 5 in Virginia, to not playing in the summer and working, so I’ve kind of had all these different experiences that help shape who I am and the decisions I make. It was a tough decision. I could have gone back to work, I could have played pro tennis. And it was actually funny, I was about to be like, “You know, Mom, I’m just going to hang it up and I’m going to go work in New York,” and they were like, “All right, play …” They were like, “All right, well, just play …” No, this wasn’t during when I was making my decision in September. They were like, “Just play one pro tournament, see how it goes,” so I played the Charlottesville Challenger, quailed there, I was like …

QUESTION:         This was last fall?

ARAGONE:          Yeah.

QUESTION:         You were potentially going to hang it up then?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I never -

QUESTION:         Your senior year?

ARAGONE:          I had never gotten … yeah, this was my senior year.

QUESTION:         So you were just going to say, “I’m going to play a senior year,” and then that’s it?

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I had never done a professional event in my life. I said, “All right, I’ll just try, go play Charlottesville,” just qualies, I’d lose a tight one in three sets, and then got to a final of a Futures, and quailed at another challenger, so I was like … you know, maybe I can try this out for a little. So I was like, I’ll give myself a year, and hopefully now I can get more than a year.

QUESTION:         So that all happened in the span of a couple months, in the fall of last year?

ARAGONE:          Yes. In the fall of my senior year.

QUESTION:         You got your first point in the fall.

ARAGONE:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

QUESTION:         Okay. Was JP Morgan ready to give you a job once you graduated? Was it like, did they promise you that, or they weren’t really … I mean, after the internship ended, were you like …

ARAGONE:          No, well, I kind of told them … they knew my dream was tennis, they understood that. My parents really wanted me to play tennis, so I originally was, you know … I’m going to play tennis. They’re a great bank, but again, I didn’t want to jump into a decision early, I wanted to take as long as I could, but there was a period in my life when I was like, “I’m ready to go to work and hang it up.” But thankfully, my parents pushed me, and who knows? Maybe I’ll go work for JP Morgan eventually. I know that they’re super supportive. They email me all the time.

QUESTION:         What did you do there?

ARAGONE:          I was in the ultra high net worth private wealth management.

QUESTION: You’ve got some good networking going on in the room over there (pointing to men’s locker room at Arthur Ashe Stadium)

ARAGONE:          Yeah, definitely, yeah.

QUESTION:         What did you do for them? Were you talking to clients, were you doing?

ARAGONE:          No, I definitely wasn’t talking to clients, because those clients have a little too much money for me to talk to. But …

QUESTION:         Hey! Let’s put you in a closet with the millionaires.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I mean, I was doing a lot of presentation for them, and pricing different financial instruments …

QUESTION:         Research.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, stuff like that. I mean, I don’t really, those clients, they want to talk to their one guy and that’s their guy.

QUESTION:         But you learned a lot.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I learned a lot. I had an unbelievable time. I love New York. If I could, I’d live here right now.

QUESTION:         Well, a (U.S. Open first round prize money) $50,000 check will get you a little, you know, 500-square foot apartment.

ARAGONE:          No, it’ll last me about two weeks in New York, if I’m being honest, it’s the most expensive city ever, but I hope to live here in the future. I love it.

QUESTION:         How did the diabetes get diagnosed for you? Were you feeling ill, or …

ARAGONE:          No, I was with the USTA. I was in Boca, getting ready to go, with a couple of my teammates, actually, Luke and Ty, to the ITFs down in South America. I started feeling flu-like symptoms, getting sick, so they took me to a MedExpress, and they said I have a respiratory infection or whatever. I just kept getting worse and worse, and my parents had to fly me out and I had to go straight to the ER.

QUESTION:         In 2011?

ARAGONE:          2011 … almost, yeah, it might have been 2012 in January. Then I started having kidney failure, liver failure. You know, I was in a coma for a couple weeks. I was in really bad shape. Basically, it was a drug reaction to an acne medication.

QUESTION:         Which put you into the coma.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I was in intensive care for like, three, four weeks, and then I was stuck in the hospital probably for a couple months, just because they couldn’t, it was a … my immune system was attacking my organs, so they had to find a way to suppress the immune system and then wean myself off of steroids. That took about the year and a half to get off medication, and then literally two months after, I was healthy. I went to Kalamazoo, played just for fun, so I was like, I’ll just go, have fun. I started feeling super dehydrated, headache, and my mom is like, “All right, well, we get bloodwork every two weeks, why don’t you do it?” So I went and got bloodwork, and they’re like, “All right, well now you’re diabetic?”

QUESTION:         You were in coma and still went on to play Kalamazoo? That’s amazing.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. That was a late onset of … well this was, this took

like a year and a half to get back in. I mean, I was out of tennis from 16 almost to 18. Luckily, Brian (Boland) took his shot with me. He had seen my play at the Open, and he really believed in me. I was lucky enough to have him give me a shot, especially when a lot of other college coaches didn’t really want to talk to me. That helped me make the decision, because originally I wanted to play pro tennis. That setback helped me realize that maybe I should go to college, and at the end of the day, it was probably the best decision I ever made.

QUESTION:         So you didn’t pick up a racquet from the beginning of the medical stuff, when you got in the coma, until a year and a half? You didn’t play at all?

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I didn’t play at all.

QUESTION:         Wow.

ARAGONE:          No, not at all. I mean, I had skin issues too, because it was, your skin’s an organ, so I couldn’t even go in the sun. It was a disaster. But it just kind of shaped me, who I am. You’ve got to take things for what they are sometimes. There’s a positive in everything.

QUESTION:         What hospital did you go to?

ARAGONE:          UCLA.

QUESTION:         Did they put you in the coma on purpose, to figure out what was wrong?

ARAGONE:          To be honest, I don’t even remember. I just remember waking up like, two weeks later, like, “Gosh, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

QUESTION:         Wow.

ARAGONE:          But yeah, my body was in a lot of pain at the time. I was in dialysis for a couple of weeks, so it was tough. It was definitely a tough moment.

QUESTION:         And they didn’t figure out that it was diabetes until a year and a half later?

ARAGONE:          Well, no. The diabetes was a late onset from the … It was a drug reaction to a medication, so that was a late onset of that illness. My immune system was coming back, because I was weaning off the steroids, and if you go too fast, it can come back and attack a different organ. That’s why we ended up having to go so slow. It took me forever.

QUESTION:         You must have missed a lot of school, too, right?

ARAGONE:          Well, people couldn’t recognize me, because if you take steroids …

QUESTION:         Bloated.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. People I knew would be, like, introducing themselves to me, and I was like, “Dude, I’ve known you for years.”

QUESTION:         So you missed a lot of school, right, then? I mean, your schoolwork …

ARAGONE:          Yeah. Luckily my school was super helpful. They brought teachers into the hospital, they helped me out. But yeah, it was definitely a tough time. But they understood.

QUESTION:         What’s your hometown, your specific hometown?

ARAGONE:          Yorba Linda, California.

QUESTION:         Richard Nixon’s hometown.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, the library over there is pretty cool.

QUESTION:         So you must have felt after that, look, I’m alive, I’m happy to be alive. It must have been a huge life …

ARAGONE:          Yeah, my perspective is great now. I’m happy to …

QUESTION:         Breathe.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, exactly. That’s why I don’t take losses very hard at all. I’m one of the few guys that you’ll never see me get pissed after a loss.

QUESTION:         Just tell me how the monitor works. it’s attached to you when you’re playing?

ARAGONE:          It’s called a DexCom, so I have two things. I have a DexCom and then I have an insulin pump. The DexCom is great. What it does is, it checks your sugar for 24 hours and it gives you instant notifications to a little receiver. That helps me because it also tells me, okay, your sugar is going up, it’s going down, it’s stable. That’s great for on the court.

QUESTION:         That’s an everyday you play thing?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I use it. I change it every seven days. The other is an insulin pump, which I have to change every three days, which that monitors my sugar. That I can’t use on the court, because it’s pretty heavy and can’t be jumping around, so that is where it gets kind of tricky. Especially now at the Open, it’s tough because they don’t want me to inject myself on the court, so if I need it, I have to call in Medical, and it’s a whole time-out, it’s a whole dilemma. They’re really not very helpful with that.

QUESTION:         So you’re wearing the DexCom, the DexCom thing is what you’re wearing?

ARAGONE:          Yeah.

QUESTION:         And that is constantly monitoring you… What is it, like, in your skin or something? Or is it …

ARAGONE:          Yeah, it’s, I don’t know if you can see it. It’s right over there. (shows the device attached to his left hip)

QUESTION:         Oh my gosh. So it’s like a little device.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. It’s a little Bluetooth sensor that I change every week.

QUESTION:         And what happens during the match when it goes off? Does it beep, does it …

ARAGONE:          It vibrates. But they can’t hear it.

QUESTION:         Does that ever happen? Did that happen during the qualies? Did it go off during your matches?

ARAGONE:          Yeah. I mean, it’s like anything. When you’re nervous, your body releases hormones, your sugar goes up. That happens with any normal human being, so for me it just escalates a lot more.

QUESTION:         So you have to go sit down immediately …

ARAGONE:          I have to, not immediately. I just need to give myself insulin, so I need to … that’s why they gave me a lot of trouble. In my first set, in my first match I was giving myself injections, and they were like, “Why is this kid …”

QUESTION:         100 degrees.

ARAGONE:          Why is this kid giving himself injections on the court?

QUESTION:         Steroids, they must have been thinking?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, they made me talk to the anti-doping, whatever, it was

a disaster.

QUESTION:         You’re not known yet, that they’d know this is a thing.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I had to fill out all these documents. It was really… because I was in college. I’d just graduated, so this is kind of all new to me.

QUESTION:         You went to the NCAAs, but you …

ARAGONE:          Yeah, but the doctors here were great. They all helped me out. Now it’s, yeah, it’s just everything. You know, new things come and you’ve got to find a way to manage it. Now I guess I’m going to have to figure out what I’m going to do if I don’t feel good on the court.

QUESTION:         How do you inject yourself? I mean, is it …

ARAGONE:          It’s a needle.

QUESTION:         It’s a pen? This is unbelievable.

ARAGONE:          I know.

QUESTION:         So on a changeover, you just were like … like, drinking water, boom.

ARAGONE:          It takes me five seconds. It pulls out, stab, and it kicks in in like five, 10 minutes.

QUESTION:         How many times did you have to do that during the whole course of the qualifying?

ARAGONE:          Like five times? Four times?

QUESTION:         Are you able to play anywhere, yourself, when you’re low? I mean, are you able to …

ARAGONE:          No, when you’re low it’s really dangerous. When you’re low, you can pass out, but the issue is when I play matches, I’m never low, because I’m just, the testosterone and I’m so nervous, everything that my sugar naturally goes up. I’m low in practice, but in matches I’m always high, which is also not great.

QUESTION:         You said it takes five to 10 minutes to kick in, that could be three or four games of tennis. I mean, are you feeling like you’re not competing at your optimal level for that time until it kicks in, or you don’t really even notice it anymore?

ARAGONE:          No, when I’m high, when I have to give myself insulin, I’m not worried about my tennis ability, I’m more worried about my health, because it’s not …

QUESTION:         Oh, of course.

ARAGONE:          It’s more when you’re low that … it’s like anything. Have you ever had low sugar, you need to eat, you get blurry? I’ve fainted before on the court, so that stuff doesn’t necessarily happen in matches, but in practice I have to be very professional and know when I eat, when I give myself insulin and all that stuff. It’s just, again, it’s easy to manage but it’s just another thing you to have to deal with on top of everything.

QUESTION:         So in college…were they were giving you this before the match? And you were like …

ARAGONE:          Well, no. In college it was great, because … we had a trainer, and my DexCom can send, that’s what’s great about it, is you can send to other people. They have an app. So my mom can check my sugar at all times. She gets notifications. My trainer. So when I was at matches, I didn’t even need to worry about it. My trainer would come, touch me on the shoulder, and be like, “Hey, your sugar’s high.” You know? That was great, because I didn’t even have to deal with it.

QUESTION:         You had a support team.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. At all times, they were ready for me, with Powerade or sugar. Here it’s a little different, because now I’m on my own. You know, I don’t travel with a coach, I just started, so it’s a whole new kind of …

QUESTION:         You have so many important things to worry about than if your forehand is off a little bit …

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I know. Sometimes it’s a little scary.

QUESTION:         Did you receive … I understand you received a job offer from Wells Fargo, is that right?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I did. They really wanted me, but … I mean, I never actually received a letter offer, because I told them, “Look, I’m going to play pro tennis,” but we were in the discussion, and they were all great guys. I interviewed with them. But again, this was right as I was starting to do well in tennis, and didn’t want to pull the trigger too early and then have regrets down the road. What is a year of traveling going to do? I can always work.

QUESTION:         You can still be a Wall Street executive at 26 or 27.

ARAGONE:          Plus, even if I play tennis, I’m going to retire at 35. I’m not going to do it til I’m 90. You know, you’ve got to do something.

QUESTION:         What was, was that job in New York, or?

ARAGONE:          It was … well, I interviewed in Charlotte, but they were offering me stuff for a New York position, which is kind of what I wanted.

QUESTION:         Who was your tennis hero growing up?

ARAGONE:          Federer, of course. Of course.

QUESTION:         Which movie do you like better, Rudy or Hoosiers?

ARAGONE:          Oh. Actually, I really like Miracle.

QUESTION:         There you go.

ARAGONE:          The hockey movie, yeah. I like that, and we always make fun

of it, because Brian’s from Minnesota.

QUESTION:         Herb Brooks. That’s funny.

QUESTION:         And just last thing on Charlottesville, you guys have been in the news, obviously, for the wrong reasons. I mean, you know the city. You played there, you lived there for four years.

ARAGONE:          Yeah.

QUESTION:         What do you think you would like people to know about Charlottesville? Maybe just … you’ve seen what’s gone on in the last few weeks, as somebody who must love it …

 

ARAGONE:          Yeah, I mean, I took one official recruiting visit and that was at Charlottesville and I fell in love with the city. You know, when Brian was there this year, I signed a lease to live there this year with all the guys once Brian left, and I hadn’t, I kind of needed to leave because I didn’t know if the coaches were going to help me or the new staff. I was ready to settle down in Charlottesville, live with the guys. I’ve always loved it. I mean, it’s an unbelievable place. It has so much history, so much culture that … For sure it’s a college town. People just love UVA. They revolve themselves mainly around UVA. It’s tough, we have a terrible football team, but that’s fine.

QUESTION:         Well, at the moment, basketball is pretty good.

 

ARAGONE:          That’s fine, yeah. Yeah, but I mean, Charlottesville is just such a cool town. For me it was completely different, coming from LA. You have all this traffic, all this noise, all this … and Charlottesville is so, you know, you have that noise, but you also have that peace and that quiet. Yeah, you have a completely different group of people than from southern California. For me, it was a complete change in climate. I was wearing tank tops and board shorts, and now I wear khakis and polos.

QUESTION:         It must have been hard, to have to see Charlottesville portrayed in such a light, with that rally and all of that stuff.

ARAGONE:          Yeah. But again, we, you know … it’s tough because people that don’t know, now they have the wrong idea, but the people that know, we don’t let that affect us. We know the true light and how people are there. It is unfortunate, but that’s how life is sometimes.

QUESTION:         Can I take a picture of you and of your device and needle?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, go ahead. Here, we’ll take a picture of this and ….

QUESTION:         Your story writes itself.

ARAGONE:          We’ll do that. We’ll put it with the DexCom and the …

QUESTION:         It’s called a DexCom?

ARAGONE:          Yeah, you see, it checks my sugar.

QUESTION:         So at changeovers, you’re checking your sugar.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, of course. Every changeover.

QUESTION:         That’s amazing.

ARAGONE:          Yeah, it’s awesome.

QUESTION:         Yeah, good luck to you. I’m glad you survived.

ARAGONE:          I can barely walk, so …

QUESTION:         I mean from the diabetes and all that.

ARAGONE:          Oh. Yeah, well, let’s see if I can survive til Monday.

JC Aragone showing his blood sugar device and insulin needle

JC Aragone showing his blood sugar device and insulin needle



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About Admin
Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER

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