‘Old man’ Hanegby ’07 gets his drive, discipline from stint in Israeli army

By
Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dan Hanegby ’07 knows what it means to love the game. He knows hours, months, years of pushing himself harder and harder. He knows the sore wound a single defeat on the tennis court leaves behind. And as the No. 66 singles player in the country, he knows exquisite moments of triumph, moments when dreams are things that can be held in one’s hands.

Everything is for those moments. He knows what it means to have dreams. A 25-year-old junior from Herzliya, Israel, his dream was to become a professional tennis player. By the age of 16, he had captured the No. 1 ranking in the country. He held the title until he was 18 – the age in Israel when compulsory military service begins.

But according to Hanegby, Israeli athletes are awarded a special status that allows them to do an easier service, assigned to a base close to their home where they only spend three or four hours a day – so he would still be able to play tennis.

However, “Israel was starting to heat up at that time,” Hanegby said. “There were a lot of suicide bombings. Every week we had something. There isn’t a person in Israel who doesn’t know someone who died in a bombing. So I wanted to do something for my country.”

Hanegby quit tennis and volunteered for the Special Forces. He would not step back onto a tennis court for three and a half years.

Hanegby knows what it means to have dreams – yet he says that his time spent in the army was worth sacrificing his tennis career. According to Hanegby, the army is “sacred” in Israel. Ever since he was a child, Hanegby had known that when he turned 18 he would be required to join the army, and it was something he would talk about with his friends. “Being in the Special Forces is like going to an Ivy League school,” he said.

For Hanegby, his service in the Special Forces put everything in perspective. “I hate to lose in tennis, but there are other things in life that are worse,” he said. “No tennis win can compare to that feeling of knowing you helped to stop the next suicide bomber. I would definitely do it again.”

Hanegby was dismissed from the military in December 2002. Many of his friends had gone to American colleges to play tennis, and Hanegby decided to try it for himself. But the return to tennis was not easy. “In the beginning, I didn’t think I could get back in shape,” he said. “It was hard. But I put in a lot of effort because I love the game.”

In Fall 2003, Hanegby began attending Binghamton University. In doing so, he became the first of his family to come to America. Hanegby said the transition was especially difficult for him, being a 23-year-old freshman. “There’s already a difference between the American 18-year-old versus the Israeli 18-year-old,” Hanegby said. “And I was so much older.”

Overall, Hanegby said the culture change was the toughest part. He called America more “slow-paced” than Israel and said in America, “everyone is in their own bubble. People are so closed here. Israel is like one big family.”

Nevertheless, Hanegby settled in and grabbed the top position on Binghamton’s team. He played for the Bearcats for two years, but he “wanted to achieve more in academics and tennis.” The Bears caught his interest because he had clicked with Brown’s players whenever the two teams met.

“He had played some guys on our team,” said Head Coach Jay Harris. “From that experience, he really respected our program. He was ready to be a Bear.”

The transfer to Brown was yet another adjustment for Hanegby. Luckily, he made an immediate connection with co-captain Phil Charm ’06, with whom Hanegby plays doubles and whom Hanegby said helped the most in his transition.

“We clicked because he was more mature than some of the other guys,” Hanegby said. “Phil also spent some time in Israel over the summer, so he knows where I’m coming from. He helped me a lot with adjusting to Brown’s academics.”

Hanegby is an economics concentrator, hoping to someday work on Wall Street, and so far, according to Charm, “He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s very dedicated to his schoolwork.”

Aside from academics, Hanegby was also unsure where he would fit in with the team. “It was tough for me,” he said. “The team is young. I was older than everyone else, but they had Phil and (co-captain) Luke (Tedaldi ’06), who had more experience with the team. I didn’t know exactly where to put myself.”

“He’s a combination of the college student and the older guy,” Charm said. The players even joke that Hanegby has an AARP card.

Harris says Hanegby’s maturity makes him a natural leader. “At times, it’s like having another assistant coach,” Harris said.

Hanegby’s teammates feel similarly. “He’s someone everyone can look up to,” Charm said. “It’s very good to be able to ask him questions about working in groups and what to do in difficult situations.”

At other times, Harris said, Hanegby is more of a “big brother” to his teammates, especially Saurabh Kohli ’08, another of Hanegby’s doubles partners. “He gives me advice and listens to me,” Kohli said. “He’s always there for me.” In fact, Kohli said, “If I don’t do my schoolwork, he calls me. Sometimes he hits tennis balls at me at practice. I don’t like being yelled at, so I do my work.”

In addition to his leadership qualities, Hanegby is famous among his teammates for his extreme punctuality. “He’s always at practice early,” said Chris Lee ’09. “He always tries to get other guys to come early, too.”

Hanegby explained that while his service in the army may have helped to strengthen this habit, in general, “I don’t like wasting time. I hate when people are late. I believe in hard work. Hard work gives you an edge.”

“He’s the hardest-working guy on the team,” Harris said. “He brings a depth of character to the team that you can’t measure.”

The Bears host Cornell on Friday, and Hanegby may be easily spotted at the match as the only player with his shirt tucked in and an Israeli flag draped over his chair for motivation. “It reminds me of the hard times I’ve been through,” he said.