Who is Your Steffi?

In Andre Agassi

I’ve never seen so many grown men cry all at the same time. When I heard Andre Agassi offer his wife the most amazing expression of gratitude at her induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame, I knew I was witnessing something that transcended the loving words of a devoted husband. I’ve met Agassi many times, but at this ceremony I shook his hand with real gratitude for what he gave me in his celebration of his wife’s spirit. My wife, Barbara, is vice-chairwoman of the Hall of Fame, and I tag along, carry the bags, and generally have a huge grin on my face every second I’m there. I love tennis that much. But this was something rare and precious. It was the testimony of a man whose life has been transformed by another person. He has become a different man because of her. In his early days, he was self-centered, wild and volatile. She hasn’t simply tamed him. She has made him into a compassionate individual who now works with her through various philanthropic efforts to make the world a better place. Watch the video of the entire speech and you’ll feel the power of love in a new way. It’s a wonderful testimony to how one person can change the lives of other people simply be being good. Agassi’s completely selfless worship of his wife’s beautiful soul moved everyone to tears, not only because of the goodness he described, but because of his humility. Anyone who has lived through the rigors of marriage—it’s hard work, no matter how happily married two people are—will be astonished at his devotion and love. Here is a condensed transcript of the speech:

The words are yet to be invented that are large enough, colorful enough or true enough to express the heart and soul of this woman I love. I wonder what can I say to do justice to the way you’ve lived your life and the lives that you’ve changed. I began several years ago on a small chalkboard sitting in our kitchen, a tradition I’ve carried on. At the end of each day I’ve picked up the chalk and tried to express the many things you mean to me. Sometimes a brief line. Sometimes a short story. But always just the overflow of a grateful heart.  Not long ago we were on the road, and I looked out our hotel room window from the upper floor of a very tall high rise and I could see the rooftop of an old beautiful cathedral. I could not believe the work of art I was seeing. I wondered how many years did it take to create this and what drove them to be this committed. I realized that when this rooftop was built it was by far the tallest building.  In an age long before airplanes or skyscrapers these workers believed . . . . (that their work) came from a deep place inside. Their need to be true to themselves was their reason and their reward. All of this has helped me to understand you a little better. Never needing applause to be at your best. Only giving the best your soul could give to feel complete. Form the roar of voices inside the lines at center court to the quiet of a child’s bedroom. That . . . soft-spoken integrity has not one time been shaken. The arena of tennis simply gave you a platform to refine those inner qualities even more. You’ve always been about the action, never about the words. Even now it has taken my breath away to see how you lay down your racquet to pursue love and motherhood with the same zeal and high standards you have always demanded of yourself. No one has ever known you to be infatuated with your own accomplishments. Anyone who speaks with you will most likely forget the great things you’ve done in thirty seconds. But they will feel cared for, their feelings engaged and you never let go of their heart until they know they are completely understood. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the greatest person I’ve ever known, Stephanie Graf.

Out of this love has emerged the couple’s extensive charity work—Children For Tomorrow and the Andre Agassi Charitable Association, to assist the youth of Las Vegas, to cite only a couple examples. The love and compassion their marriage has generated is now having a huge impact in Las Vegas.

In 1991, the Steffi Graf Youth Tennis Center in Leipzig was dedicated.[29] She is the founder and chairperson of “Children for Tomorrow”, a non-profit foundation for implementing and developing projects to support children who have been traumatized by war or other crises.

Tell us about someone in your life who has offered you a shining example of someone whose goodness inspired, motivated or maybe even changed who you are. Is there a Steffi in your life?