Home » Chris Lancette, HEADLINES AND FEATURES, PODCASTS, Top Stories » Jan-Michael Gambill lives for the roar of a different kind of crowd

By Christopher Lancette

I could see a little bid of dread cross Jan-Michael Gambill’s face when he saw me sprinting toward him just moments after he and his Boston Lobsters had lost their World Team Tennis match to the Washington Kastles. It had been a long day and an even tougher night on the courts. I couldn’t blame him for feeling an urge to skip post-match press interviews and wanting to just head to the hotel.

His eyes lit up, though, once he realized this scribe wanted to talk to him about big cats – as in lions, tigers and jaguars – and he pounced on the opportunity to share his passion for supporting the Cat Tales Zoological Park near his hometown of Spokane, Washington. The nonprofit organization operated by Mike and Debbie Wyche rescues and cares for upwards of 50 endangered cats at a time.

“It’s an amazing facility run by two people who have given their lives to this,” said Gambill, who reached a career-high ATP ranking of No. 14 and beat world No. 1’s including Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Lleyton Hewitt. “They don’t get any federal support and it was an easy cause for me to get involved in. I’ve always loved animals, especially big cats.”

The Wyches founded the park in their own home in 1991 and now attract thousands of visitors a year. They also run a Zoological Training Center that teaches people the profession of zoo keeping. The mission of the “zoo school” becomes clear to students on day one: “The first thing you learn in this program is that you do not ‘work with the animals’,” according to its Web site. “You ‘work for the animals.’”

Gambill himself has taken classes so he can learn more about the animals he’s so eager to save.

How does a tennis player once named by People Magazine one of the “50 most beautiful people in the world” get hooked on the Cat Tales Zoological Park?

Playing in the Davis Cup. (That was your first guess, right?)

“Back then, you used to get an allocation of money that you could donate to the charity of your choice,” Gambill said. “I was very interested in endangered animals and the Davis Cup led me to my first opportunity to make a real difference.”

Gambill hopes to bring more attention to the plight of endangered cats and to the charitable work of the Cat Tales Zoological Park. He would love to put together a TV show about the Wyches and their calling.

That would be reality TV worth watching!

Photos by © Won-ok Kim


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