Newport Beach tennis player gets back on the courts with mobility aid

Larry Collins returns ball to opponent Monday at Palisades Tennis Club Newport Beach.
Larry Collins returns the ball to his opponent Monday at Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach. Collins lost mobility in 2022 due to complications from a routine back surgery but is now back on the courts.
(Susan Hoffman)

Newport Beach resident Larry Collins has been playing tennis since he first picked up a racket at the age of 9 and discovered he had an affinity for the sport.

His lifelong passion took him as far as the quarter-finals for mixed doubles in 1971 at Wimbledon when he was in the international circuit.

He continued playing tennis over the decades that followed until he eventually retired from the courts and worked for tennis racket equipment supply companies. He also continued his family’s legacy with the Collins Co. in Chino, founded by his father, Warren. Collins’ son, Parker, is the current chief executive officer.


After complications from a routine spinal surgery left nerve damage in his left leg that led to foot drop in the fall of 2022, Collins was benched from the courts until he discovered a mobility device that allowed him to get back to the sport he loves.

“After the surgery, I felt [foot drop] immediately ... and we don’t know how or why. I had severe back damage, and I was in horrible condition before, so I had no choice [but to have the surgery],” Collins said. “It took three days and they kind of replaced my whole back. It was hardware and all kinds of things, but it was just years of wear and tear. Pounding the concrete tennis courts, it wears you down.”

Collins said he felt numbness and tingling in his foot. He started out in a wheelchair during the immediate recovery from his surgery before progressing to a walker with the assistance of an ankle-foot orthosis — a supportive device that helps control the range of motion between an individual’s ankle and foot to aid in walking.

Larry Collins hits a forehand as he plays tennis at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach on Monday.
(Susan Hoffman)

Collins, 79, said he tried everything to help address the foot drop.

“I searched the internet. I’d talk to people, and if I saw someone who walks similar to me, I would stop to talk to them,” Collins said. “It’s kind of like a little club now. You see and compare stories. I tried several AFOs and that helped. The one I have now is pretty good, but I continued to see the doctor to see if he had any ideas.”

Collins said his doctors later suggested they look into stimulating the muscles in his leg and, after some research, he said he stumbled upon the Bioness L300 Go — an electrical stimulation device aimed to correct foot drop and thigh weakness. The doctor then scheduled an appointment with a representative, who tested the device on Collins’ left leg.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work. But, then [the representative] said, ‘Let’s try it on your quad and see what happens.’ They put it on my quad and it was amazing. It improved my walk. It was a more natural walk and everyone looked at me. There were four to five nurses to see me walk and it was a demo bracer, but I didn’t want to give it back,” Collins said, laughing. “So, it strengthens my quad and gives me better control of my foot, so I don’t have as severe of a foot problem.”

Larry Collins hits a forehand as he plays tennis at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach on Monday.
Larry Collins hits a forehand as he plays tennis at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach on Monday. His leg is being supported by an electrical stimulation device that helps with mobility.
(Susan Hoffman)

But the real test was to see if he could get back to playing.

That test came in December when Collins joined the U.S. Tennis Assn.’s national Grandfather/Grandson Hardcourt Tournament in La Jolla with his grandson, Jack Cross. Collins said he didn’t think there was a way for him to play, but the pair decided to make their way down to just check in and see the tournament. They soon found themselves on a court.

“We won the coin toss, so my grandson and I looked at each other. ‘Should I serve?’ I said, ‘Go for it.’ I ... intended to stay off the court. I was nervous about whether or not I’d be able to move or play, but we won that match, and I’m not sure how. As the tournament went on, I got better. I started playing the court, and it was amazing. It gave me a lot of confidence to keep playing,” said Collins. “We finished third, and we beat a couple of teams that I thought we didn’t have a chance [against].”

Collins said he’s continued playing ever since and is hopeful he’ll get to compete with his grandson again as he continues to strengthen his legs.

“People are always telling me that they can’t believe the progression I’ve made. They remember me in a walker and with a cane. They see me on the court again, and it’s amazing what I can do,” he said.

Good friends Bob Braun and Larry Collins, from left, play tennis at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach on Monday.
(Susan Hoffman)