Unafraid. Unfiltered. Unapologetic.

#13 – The Plate, a Marathon, a Heart Defect, and Death

In 2009, there was a significant convergence of tennis, running, and my mother’s death all within one ten-day period. I’ll try to make this short but not sure I can.

As I stated in my last post, I was training for my first marathon, vying for “the plate” for the most tennis wins that season in our league, and my mother was fighting breast cancer. Oh, and I was going on out of state college visits with my oldest son.

Unfortunately, she lost her battle with breast cancer on April 11, 2009. We had her small service at my home the following week. In between her death and the service, I had a doctor’s visit that shockingly diagnosed a possible heart defect. I had to see a cardiologist ASAP. I was quickly seen and definitively diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. WPW can and does cause sudden cardiac death. Ok, well, that was a HUGE surprise, especially as I had never been more fit or more athletic in my life. I was training for a marathon for goodness sake!! The doctor told me I needed surgery to fix the problem, and I should not get exhausted, let alone run a marathon – which was weeks away at this point.

Two days after my mother’s service, I had just been diagnosed with a serious heart issue, and was playing my final match of the season. The final match, yes, and – get this – at the tennis club where my mother use to play in my old hometown of Newport Beach. I was tied for first with another player from another club for “most wins” in my division. This match would be for all the marbles (actually for “the plate”).

I choked. Oh, did I choke. I lost bad. I lost quickly.

I’m a fairly unemotional and relaxed player. I’m certainly not a drama queen. Not only did I choke and lose the match, but after I lost, I fell to my knees and started sobbing right there in the middle of the court. So not me!!! So embarrassing. My opponents and my partner were stunned. They didn’t know all I had going on. My diagnoses, my mother’s death. Now, I lost the plate, too, right at my mom’s club! It was just all too much. My opponents felt so bad, they sincerely offered to give me the win. While tempting, I obviously couldn’t win the plate this way. I still had my pride although bruised with my outburst. The rest of my team quickly came over to see what was going on. When they learned, they were all so incredibly kind, got me a water, offered to drive me home, but eventually got me in my car and I headed home.

After every match, the team captain emails the scores in and they are constantly being updated on the league website. These updates can appear within an hour to the next day. You never know. Now remember, before the match that day, I was tied with another lady for the most wins in our division. I just assumed she had won that day because she played a team much lower on the ladder. Wait for it… Turned out she lost, too! What???? I had gone from crying over losing to crying because I had won the plate after all.  Even if it was a tie with another gal, it was a sweet, sweet win for this formerly un-athletic gal. Victory at last!! I was so thrilled!

The league luncheon was the following week, and even though my cardiologist wanted me in ASAP to get my heart defect fixed, I had to run the marathon AND accept the plate at the annual tennis luncheon FIRST! The surgery could and would wait.

Even though my cardiologist told me not to run the marathon, he did give me permission to walk it carefully. One of my running buddies, Gwen, gave up running the marathon herself, and walked (kind run) with me “just in case.” It took us over 5 hours to finish that marathon, but I did it. My husband and boys cheered me, and it was fantastic to accomplish this goal when I was 47!

The week after that, I very proudly accept the plate for Most Wins in my division. The other player who also won had no idea what had transpired in my life which I overcame to win the plate, too.

What a 10-day period in 2009 that was. And, I miss my mother every single day.

FUN FACT: I used the same white Wilson tennis racquet from the first day I picked up a racquet in 2002 until I gave up tennis in 2015. I have the racquet and the coveted plate framed together in my house.

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