Category Archives: Tennis

Summer Inspiration

Summer is here in full force and I have the mosquito bites to prove it. (I seem to get tastier as I get older.)  June brings transitions as schools let out and schedules shift into summer mode.  For me, June means  outdoor music, outdoor tennis, and the Project Mar:a Art jam.

My USTA tennis team is in full swing (pun intended) and we’ve already had several matches.  We were short-staffed last week, and our captain was desperate enough to put me in on the singles court against a much younger opponent.  Gak – I had my misgivings, but was willing to give it a go.  We ended up having a great match, and after two plus  sweaty hours, I managed to eke out a close victory .  We were the last ones on the court, and our match was the decider among the teams.  Good thing i didn’t know that at the time!

Saturday night was an art jam  sponsored by Project Mar:a.  The use of the semicolon instead of an ‘i’ is intentional.  The Semicolon has become a symbol of a movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those struggling with a variety of mental illnesses.  “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to.  The author is you and the sentence is your life”  (from Project Semicolon)

The featured speaker was Dawn Smith-Theodore, author of “Tutu Thin” who spoke of her own struggles, and the pervasiveness of eating disorders among dancers.  There were some local performers and speakers, including myself–I spoke of my experiences as a mother and as an eating disorder advocate.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I had gone to the art jam last year, and it was a nice, but very small-scale affair.  This year, they used the High School stage for several performances, and had about 50ish people in attendance.  It  has been several decades since I was on a High School stage, and I had to fight the temptation to break into a song from Fiddler on the Roof.

After my speech, a lovely young woman approached me in tears, and asked for my phone number.  She’s been struggling for 15 years with anorexia and she wanted to give my number to her mom — so her mom could have someone who ‘understands’ to talk with.  We chatted a bit, and hugged.  You just never know what people are going through.

While I was at the art jam, Dan went to a live rock concert downtown – where he ran into several friends.  All in all, we both had great evenings.

 

 

Tennis Blues

I am on an over-40 USTA tennis league.  As someone who is considerably over 40, I am tempted to check the IDs of many of the women that we’ve been playing against, because they are suspiciously agile and speedy. I’m getting a little tired of those peppy 41 year olds dashing around the courts smacking the balls into unreachable corners at unreasonable rates of speed.

I would like to propose a league where there is both a minimum age, and a maximum foot speed.  This would be a more mindful, enjoy-the-moment, kinder brand of tennis; that permits the time to stop and appreciate a good shot, without having to hustle back into position for the return shot.

This year I volunteered to play singles on the over-40 league, since most prefer to play doubles.  I proceeded to lose three straight singles matches in third-set tie-breaks.  For those of you who are not familiar with tennis scoring –these are close matches that have gone into the tennis equivalent of overtime.  It’s really pissing me off.

It almost felt good to lose a fourth match without playing a tie-break.  The (allegedly) 40 year old opponent won because she is a stronger player;  not because I had a mental lapse and blew yet another match that I coulda/shoulda won.

I am sure it’s just coincidence, but I haven’t won a USTA match since Trump has taken office.

Retro Tennis

It’s a revival of rivalries from over a decade ago: when the Williams sisters were seemingly in every major final, as were Federer and Nadalon the men’s side.  Venus, Serena and Roger are all in their mid 30s; and Rafa is the youngest of this year’s finalist at a mere 30. This group of seasoned tennis ‘senior citizens’ have been spanking back their younger opponents in Australia.

It’s never a surprise when Serena makes a final, but for Venus it’s been over 7 years; during that time her auto-immune disease has taken its toll, preventing her from playing at the top of her game.  Even if she had hung up her tennis shoes by now, she would be an inspiration both on and off the court–her comeback at age 36 is truly impressive.

For Federer / Nadal it’s been 6 years since they met in a Grand Slam Final:  with see-saw results on hard courts and Rafa reigning supreme on the clay.  Rafa has had a rough couple of years with the injuries that are inevitable with his hard charging style of play–and it’s exciting to see him back on top of his game.  Roger is back after taking 6 months off to heal a knee injury; and has proven he can still mix it up with the best.

Although I do not consider 36 be old… in tennis years they ‘should be’ well past their prime.  Kudos to all four of them…  win or lose, it will be exciting, and the real winners are the fans who get a chance to see timeless greatness…. once again.

OMG – I Met Monica Seles!

I was literally the first person to claim a seat for ‘breakfast with Monica’ today at the NEDA Conference.  I felt like a shameless groupie!  I wore my tennis earrings for the occasion.

When Monica took the stage: my first impression was: boy, is she tall!  Monica spoke very articulately about her struggles with Binge Eating Disorder; which she suffered from for many years.  While her family and coaches knew something was wrong, they did not understand that this is a medical condition that cannot simply be ‘stopped’.  So disciplined and controlled in most aspects of her life, she couldn’t understand why she could not control this element of her life.  It baffled her and those in her inner circle.

For many years, Monica’s obsession was not to win the next grand slam; but to get thinner, as she struggled with body image and binge eating demons.  It is particularly difficult to take a ‘time out’ to deal with a medical issue when you are a professional athlete.  You have contractual obligations, your winnings are needed to support your family and your staff and your staff’s family.  That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager!  She knew she had a problem, but didn’t know what to do about it–no one in circle really took it seriously.  Finally… eventually, she had a frank conversation with her doctor and began the healing process.

During the Q&A, I submitted two questions:  1) Her thoughts on the body-shaming directed at female athletes, including Serena and;  2)  why Monica used a two-handed forehand.  Only # 2 was posed by the moderator:  Monica laughed and said that was because when she started playing, she was playing with an adult sized racquet and needed two hands to control it — and it became a habit.

We were all given a copy of her book:  “Get a Grip”; and she stayed to sign copies.  I gushed up to her with a copy of my  Monica Seles Post  from March 2015 (I’m sure she will treasure it always). She inscribed my book with:  to Paula: keep Swinging, I’ll see you on the courts”.  She couldn’t have been more gracious!

2016 NEDA conference Day 1

I am in Chicago for the annual NEDA conference, and am a little tipsy from the wine at the kick-off dinner as I write this.   MONICA SELES IS HERE!!!  I will try to be first in line for ‘breakfast with Monica’ tomorrow to buy her book about her experiences living with an eating disorder and to hear her speak.  Perhaps I will bring her a copy of my Blog Entry  (see http://paula-ponders.com/monica-seles-speaks-out-against-eds/ ) about her, as well as a tennis ball for her to sign (I happened to have one in my car – go figure!)

Aside from meeting tennis icons; the thing I love most about the NEDA conference is hearing people’s stories.   Tonight I enjoyed a class of wine with a table of parents, and then went to dinner, where I sat with a group  of dedicated young women who are all professionally involved in fighting eating disorders one way or another.

First were the moms… they break my heart. We shared our stories and our heartache.   It’s a unique kind of suffering to watch your child self-destruct despite all your love and support.  The moms (and dads)  at THIS conference understand that all too well. I heard about:  the 22 year old bi-polar and anorexic daughter who won’t take her meds or go to her counseling appointments; the insurance company who won’t pay for much-needed treatment; the child who committed suicide in the hospital while a nurse stepped away from her station.  So very sad.

Often, parents feel a sense of isolation, guilt and shame; compounding their sense of helplessness and despair.  We come together to console, commiserate and support.  We understand and we care.  It is not enough, but it is something.

Then… a walk down Wacker Avenue, past the Trump Tower (I will try to refrain from political commentary) to Chuck’s restaurant.  I ended up at a table of young, attractive and vibrant women.  One is an athletic director and coach in Portland Oregon – she strives to promote healthy body image among her student athletes–which can be challenging in a co-ed sport requiring swimsuits.  She advises that one of the challenges with girl athletes is that they need ‘permission’ to be aggressive.  The challenge with boys is that they need to manage their aggressive tendancies.  Interesting.

Many of the young women work for non-profits:  one manages an on-line community to support those suffering from eating disorders as a positive and constructive alternative to the disgusting ‘pro-ana’ sites on the web.  A couple other women are lobbyists that promote legislation to support funding and coverage for mental health issues. Another is a program director for an eating disorder treatment center.  Wow – that is a lot of inspiring commitment!

I hope they all vote.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

We are enjoying a particularly lovely summer week.  We have begun the annual tradition of cramming as much FUN as is humanly possible into the short and gorgeous Wisconsin summer.

Dan and I used the Solstice as an excuse to have a get together at our (still new-ish to us) house: the weather cooperated nicely, and we had a great turn out.  It’s always a good idea to have people over periodically to motivate us to do some cleaning and sprucing up, inside and out.

It occurs to me that our family and friends are getting to an age, that it may be advisable to ask our guests sign a liability waiver before entering our stair-ridden home.  I was diligent to point out the fact that we have a SUNKEN living room to all guests… (the memory of my father’s fall is still very fresh). However, we had no injuries and lots of laughs — playing badminton with an LED lit birdie in the dark.

Monday was the ACTUAL solstice: we had a very pleasant evening listening to a live band, while visiting with a small group of friends at monthly neighborhood event. There was a USTA match going on in the adjacent tennis courts, that included several of my tennis friends.  I wandered over to the courts between music sets and scored a glass of wine during their court-side post match picnic, and was given $5 that was said to be owed to me for some reason that no one could recall.  All in all, a well rewarded visit!

I coordinate a local rec group that gets together to play tennis on Wednesday nights.  Its a bit of a motley crew with a wide range of abilities; everyone is super friendly,  and we make it work with whoever shows up.  Tonight, the rain skirted our courts, and we had some very competitive and fun sets.

Tomorrow I have two social events after work… One is a reunion of sorts for those of us that worked in the IT dept of Oscar Mayer foods at some point over the last 30 years … the plant and office is being shut down — its an opportunity to reunite with people that I used to be close to, but haven’t seen for a very long time.  After that, I will join my current work team at a Mallards / college baseball game.

I’ll catch up on my sleep in the winter!

Court Style

I tend to be more practical than fancy in my clothing choices:  preferring clothes that fit well and are comfortable over more stylish, uncomfortable, options.  I have already written about my particular distaste for high heels; due to the discomfort and the actual physical damage wrought upon my calves and toes.

However, I generally strive to not embarrass myself or my companions with my appearance and/or apparel; and while I am usually successful,  there have been some notable exceptions.

Some days I go right from work to the tennis court; having packed my tennis gear the evening before.  I occasionally forget something and have to improvise. Over the years I have played with a demo racket; bought an ’emergency’ , expensive pair of shoes; played in my sketchers; played in my yoga pants; and I’ve played many matches in a non-sports friendly bra.

On a recent Thursday evening I arrived at the club and discovered I had no shorts or skirt. Helen is one of the ladies I play with on Thursday evenings; she is a statuesque  Russian woman who keeps several tennis outfits in her locker at the club.  When she learned of my plight, Helen kindly loaned me one of her tennis dresses.

If Helen and I were in one of those ads:  “Who wore it better?” with side-by-side pictures, you would have seen a beautiful and lanky Helen looking lovely in a well-fitting tennis dress that rests mid-way on her thighs; next to a picture of what looks like an 8 year old girl with glasses, boobs and varicose veins wearing her mom’s dress that is down to her knees.  (In retrospect, this may have been a good opportunity to buy a new skirt at the club.)

Then there is the matter of my general clumsiness and lack of care when eating; my particular nemesis is drinking coffee out of a carry-out cup, which frequently results in unfortunate incidents.  One recent morning my boss looking at me oddly and (kindly) advised that I was sporting a rather large coffee stain on my blouse.  It’s nice having a woman boss who can appreciate that ‘the girls’ sometimes get in the way of a good cup of joe.

As a final tip (especially for curvy girls): it’s wise to have a sweater or jacket available at all times — its a great cover up for stains

So Close, Yet So Far

It was so close!  According to all the media hype, it was practically a sure thing.  All Serena had to do was win two more matches, and the greatest tennis player of all time would have accomplished that most elusive of challenges:  The calendar slam.  JUST TWO MORE MATCHES!

It was so unexpected!  You’ve probably never heard of the woman that beat her–Roberta Vinci.  She has never before been in a singles semi-final at a major event .  Yet, at 32 years of age with over a decade of so-so results in singles on the professional women’s tour — she beat the best player of all time on the biggest tennis stage in the world.  What a thrill!

It was so strange!  Serena was visibly tense.  Who wouldn’t be?  there were over 22,000 people in Arthur Ashe stadium cheering her on, including luminaries from around the world.  A few times Serena looked as if she was going to cry–and that’s when things were going well.  She has been under an amazing amount of pressure; while her opponent and nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This is a reminder that tennis is a sport–it is a game.  On Thursday evening Serena didn’t have her best stuff and her opponent played great.  We (the royal, global, American ‘we’) have a  tendancy to iconize (I don’t even think that’s a word) our sports heroes.  But, occasionally we are reminded that they are people too–just like us.

It makes me think about the other middle-of-the-pack players that  dedicate their life to a sport, and never get the kind of recognition, fame or wealth that the top players receive.  For every Serena there are dozens of professional players who will never have their moment in the sun at a Grand Slam, and most of them will never have the type of shining moment that Roberta Vinci experienced last Thursday night.

For myself, I admit to wishing that once in awhile someone would  come and cheer me on during a tennis match!  The only time this actually happened was about ten years ago; my mom and dad plopped down their lawn chairs behind the court to watch me play in a court near their home.  (It was very sweet and I regret that I admonished them to stop their ‘chatter’ during the points.)

All of this has me pondering the nature of celebrity (blessing or curse?), as well as how the vast majority of us go about our business without a lot of recognition, fame or fortune.   Do we somehow believe that celebrities are more deserving than the rest of us?  Are they happier than the rest of us?   These are interesting questions, and ones I plan on ‘pondering’ at a later time.

 

 

 

 

Another Trip Around the Sun

Monday is sort of a lousy day for a birthday because, well…. its Monday.    That’s why we celebrated my big day a bit early by going out to an amazing Italian restaurant for lunch yesterday, and spent the rest of the (hot) afternoon in a food coma, napping and lazing around the house.

I spent this evening doing one of my favorite things–playing tennis.  Unfortunately, our opponents were not feeling very generous (even though I TOLD them it was my birthday).   It was a close match; my partner and I had several opportunities to close it out after eking out the first set; but unfortunately, we lost a nail-biter. Playing indoors due to the threat of rain, it was incredibly hot with no air movement.  We had many long rallies, points and games, and towards the end of the match I was struggling– although the three  other players (all twenty-something singles player) on the court seemed to all be fresh as daisies.   Hey – I bet I could beat their mothers!

By this time, my kids have all checked in,and I have a ton of bday greetings  FB.  I took the obligatory bagels to work  and my loving hubby presented me with a certificate for a hot air balloon ride;  however, I am a bit concerned whether I will meet the stated ‘agility’ requirement for getting in and out of the balloon basket.  In addition to being very short, I have the approximate flexibility of a telephone pole. I may need a boost.

All in all– a very satisfactory birthday. Something not to be taken for granted.  I share a birthday with the husband of a friend of mine, who is spending this birthday in the hospital after a horrific head-on auto accident a couple weeks ago. His body was essentially shattered, and he continues to be in critical condition.  His wife keeps us posted with the ups and downs of his condition.  He faces a long and painful recovery.

This puts the loss of a mere tennis match (and my diminished aerobic capabilities) into needed perspective.   It is cliche, but still true, that we need to seize the day because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Today, I celebrate one more successful trip around the sun.

 

Shame on the Shamers!

Shortly after I posted about Serena’s accomplishments, I found this: Serena shaming examples.

At least there seems to be a discussion on the topic – as the author of the posted cited above states:    Fortunately, as online critics have also been quick to point out, the continued shock and awe that Williams’ body does not conform to some tiny little white girl paradigm is outrageously narrow minded and insulting.

Why is it that a woman’s body is considered an open target for judgement and criticism?   Serena has proven beyond a shadow of ANY doubt – that she is simply the best at what she does.   She is an athlete, and she (and we) should  be proud of her strong, muscular body.  She (and her body) deserve our respect and admiration; and I simply cannot fathom the depths of the judgmental self-righteous arrogance that seems to compel haters to jump in with their irrelevant and insulting criticisms of one of the greatest athletes of any generation.

And then there is This NY Times Article about the body image issues in women’s tennis.  The article  gives credence and valuable editorial real estate to the view that many players prefer to be more ‘feminine’ (read: tiny, quiet and white)  in appearance.   The label ‘feminine’ is subjective at best, and racist and sexist at worst.  It has been (and appear to continue to be) used to defend the undefensible stereotype that women should be small, quiet and demure, versus being our true selves-selves that come in a wide range of sizes, colors, volumes, personalities, skills and strengths.

More power to Serena and other women who are unapologetically STRONG, Powerful, Smart, Fearless, and Outspoken vs. trying to conform to someone else’s stereotype of what a ‘real’ woman should be.

It reminds me of the words of Sojourner Truth regarding the condescending definition of femininity of her generation; a definition that was used as justification for denying women basic rights such as the vote and the ability to own property in their own names:

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”