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September 28, 2012 12:46 PM
Tom_Rios_(2)Tom Rios has taught tennis for almost 30 years, most of that time in his native Albuquerque. He gives private lessons to groups, teams or individuals of all levels, principally at the Jerry Cline Tennis Center. Mild of manner and possessed with great patience, Rios is one of the few tennis instructors in New Mexico who is not affiliated with a club or a municipality. Simply, he likes being his own boss to the 100 or so players he sees each week. Indeed, he likes everything about tennis, including the challenges. On September 17, a Monday morning, he met a most unexpected challenge.
What happened to you exactly?
I run a women’s singles league each week.  It is my league and I rent a court to do this, for women 3.5 to 4.0.  On that particular Monday morning the women were on Court 14 at Jerry Cline.  That court is on the southwest corner of the complex. There’s a behind the court where I had set up some water and my backpack.
Then you aren’t on the court?
No, I stand on the grass behind the court, watching the women play, giving direction if needed.  The women set up their belongings on the court. I’m not a player; I just supervise the league.
Sounds uneventful thus far. Then what?
I noticed this young man, maybe in his early 20s, walking by my bench.  There’s a lot of traffic these days at Jerry Cline, what with the construction and people coming and going by the courts. Especially in the morning. There have been theft problems there, too, I had heard.
So what did you do?
I kept an eye on this guy.  I kept looking over, watching him walk back and forth. Then suddenly he grabs this red backpack of mine that was lying on the bench. I yelled to him, “Hey!” But he starts running off with my backpack.
What was in the backpack?
Nothing, really. My day planner and a few tennis items, a jacket I think. My wallet and keys were in my pocket. The backpack was a keepsake, you might say. My daughter Alex had given it to me as a gift.
Which way did he run?
He ran south across Constitution, toward that office complex on the corner of Constitution and Louisiana. I ran after him.
You chased him?
I did.  I didn’t really see his face, but I knew he was a young guy.  He probably thought he could outrun me. I’m 50 years old.
He kept going then?
Yes, he cut east onto streets and started running through this residential neighborhood. He just kept going but I could feel myself gaining on him. He was fast and maybe 30 years younger, but I could tell I was catching up.  “I’m gonna catch you!” I yelled. I called out for him to drop the bag. But he wouldn’t do it. He probably thought it had money in it.
Were you getting tired?
I was. But I could hear him breathing hard. He kept looking back. I think he thought he could ditch me.  For me, this was like being in a third-set tiebreaker. People in the neighborhood were watching and some were cheering me.  Soon the guy circled around and back to Constitution and to the playground at the park, east of the tennis courts.  I was really getting closer to him now.  One of the women in my league, Kay Mixon, actually followed the chase in her car.  
He wasn’t going to give up?
That’s what it looked like. But when he got to the chain-link fence that separates the courts from the I- 40 buffer wall behind it, that’s when I knew it might be over.  I was about 20 feet behind him when he dropped the bag.
He must have thought you were one crazy tennis dude.
[Laughs.] Possibly, but you know, he never said a word.
Did he make it over the fence?
He did, but it must have been difficult for him, because he was tired and that’s a tall fence. Once on the other side he disappeared. I grabbed my backpack and went back to Court 14. 
I’m guessing you returned a hero.
All the women were shouting “Hooray for Tom!” They were saying, “Good job, Good job!” It was pretty funny. When I told my wife Kellie about it later, she said, You know, it could have been dangerous. She’s right, it could it have been. You don’t know what guys like that are going to do. My friends said, You’re crime fighter, Tom.
Do you feel that way? That you took a bite out of crime?
I do in a way. It’s the principal of the thing.  Sometimes we have to stand up and do the right thing in life.
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