During the rainy first days of Roland Garros 2014, many spectators wedged themselves into the small museum on the grounds honoring Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros for his aviation exploits during World War I. While most were simply seeking a dry place to pass the rain delay, those who were looking closely would have learned about the man whose indomitable spirit imbues the tournament that rewards those who share his iron will.
A sickly child, he took up cycling to improve his health, and became a champion cyclist, soccer and rugby player during his studies. Upon graduation, he developed an interest in automobiles, and, despite being financially cut off by his father who disapproved of his career choice, launched a successful business in automobile sales. But he changed course when he first encountered airplanes, became a pioneer in long distance flight, and was the first to cross the Mediterranean Sea by plane. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Roland volunteered for the French army, and served as a reconnaissance pilot. Shot down in April 1915, Roland spent nearly three years as a prisoner of war, but, after many attempts, managed to escape in February 1918. He returned to his aerial missions, but was killed when he was shot down in October 1918.
While there may not seem to be too many similarities between an early 20th century aviation pioneer, and the lycra-clad victors of the tournament that bears his name, this year’s champions both share Roland’s ability to adapt and to wring longevity from careers that seemed like they would be shortened by injury.