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Your First Gold Ball

By Carolyn Fournier

 

Winning a First Gold Ball is like that magical moment when a child on the carousel successfully reaches out and grabs the brass ring. At first you just concentrate on staying on your horse but eventually you let go, trusting your balance and getting braver, more experienced. There are other riders, some bigger and stronger. Their timing and concentration seem better. They look relaxed as they approach the magical moment, reaching out with confidence towards the prize.

 

Those riders are what I call “Dynasty Players” on the Senior tennis circuit. They have stayed on with all the ups and downs, perfecting the calm confidence and skill it takes to be consistent and imposing winners.  True competition exists, but true challengers are few. Many hope for that small window of time when they are in a different division, or the Dynasty Player has stayed home, or is having a physical or mental moment that cracks open the door.

 

I’m reminded of a woman who came late to tournament play, Dodo Cheney. Years before I even dreamed of senior tournament play, she was focused on those few opportunities she might get to win Gold. Several years ago I saw her in the beauty shop, warmly dressed in a winter sweater. She was then around 97 years old. I went over to say hello, and reminded her that my husband and I had, years before, played a practice match with her and her doubles partner before a big event. I wanted to let her know that I had started playing some National tournaments and that she was a big inspiration. To my amazement, she reached under her sweater and pulled out a gold chain. On the end of the chain was a Gold Ball.

 

I realized then that I had never really seen a Gold Ball, even though the fairy tale was already in my head. In 2017 my husband and I came close to getting our First Ball of any color. We made it to the semis in a national event, losing in a very tight, close match. Then in the ¾ playoff, the seeming certainty of at least a Bronze ball vanished when my husband injured himself and we had to withdraw. The carousel slowed and the music faded, then stopped.

 

It’s hard to know if circumstance will ever give you another opportunity to be so close. But, this year we tried again. The Dynasty team was absent and all the teams recognized the opportunity, eager for their chance to get beyond an earlier bronze or silver. We did not take anything for granted, the mental and emotional lesson of a near miss indelibly etched into our psyche.

 

We were both playing well, competing well and we were behind. I remember a flash of startling clarity when I recognized that there was a choice to continue being a competitor or to become, for that moment, a contender. We never looked back. And, this time when the carousel slowed and the music ended, we were holding not the bronze or the silver, but the Gold Ball. There is indeed nothing like your first time.