"Yes, I understand that, but just what sort? I mean, would you mind being a little more specific?"
I tried to keep it simple. "I had diabetes," I said lightly.
"Fully recovered now, I suppose?"
"I say," another reporter put in, "isn't that rather extraordinary? I mean to say, one doesn't recover from diabetes, to the best of my knowledge. And I had the impression that diabetics aren't permitted to take exercise."
It was all in the papers the next day, along with a picture of me in action: "Billy Talbert, who conducts his career in tennis with a hypodermic needle as well as a racket. The American Davis Cup star is a diabetic, playing the game under doctor's supervision since the age of 14."
A day or two later, when we reached Melbourne, the site of the Challenge Round, I found a note addressed to me under the letterhead of a local organization dedicated to the training and care of diabetics. As a "well-known" athlete, it said, I was in a position to be of "inspiration and inestimable help to fellow sufferers of diabetes." Could I spare a couple of hours, some time in the near future, to play a brief tennis exhibition for a group of diabetic children and perhaps chat with them afterward for a while?
I didn't care for that term "fellow sufferers." I wasn't a "sufferer" of anything; my idea was to lick it and leave it behind, to get as far away from it as possible. There were comparable organizations back home. I had always given them a wide berth.
If I had been completely my own agent I would have done the same down in Melbourne. But I wasn't just acting for Bill Talbert, private citizen and tennis player. I was a representative of the U.S. That little emblem on the pocket of my blazer, identifying me as a member of the American Davis Cup team, was a responsibility as well as an honor.
And so one morning I drove out to one of Melbourne's handsome parks. With me was Gardnar Mulloy, who had agreed to come along as my opposition. Several dozen youngsters, some as young as 7 or 8, others in their late teens, were assembled around the hard-surfaced public court. I could feel the dozens of eyes on me as I took the court with my rackets under my arm. I waved a hello to the group, acknowledging the director's introduction. In spite of myself, I felt an immediate contact with them.
For the kids' benefit, I called over to Mulloy, who had taken his position across the net: "I'm warning you, Gardnar, I've had my insulin, I've had my breakfast, and I'm ready for anything this morning." I turned to the boys and added: "Mr. Mulloy, here, isn't a member of the club, like you and me, but he's a fine fellow just the same. Maybe we'll make him an honorary member."