Active Forever Member Profile:
Don & Kathy Abbott (Tucson, Ariz.)
Don and Kathy Abbott (right) are this month's spotlight member profile. We chose this tennis-loving couple from Tucson because they have been relentless of late, finding their names together in several tournament draws throughout the Southwest and even United States. This couple was one of our 2012 Adult Slam Series Champions in the 65 mixed doubles category, and Kathy was also our top performer in the women's 65 singles.
We got to talking to them and found out they had a great back story, and that the couple - who have been married more than 40 years - actually met through tennis back in their home state of Ohio.
The couple used to take plenty of travel trips to play tournaments, often hitting the road and popping up a tent at tournament stops along the way. After a 10-year break from the sport and a relocation to Tucson a little more than a decade ago, the self-professed "tennis addicts" dove back into the sport and have been warriors with it ever since.
We caught up with the couple from the road this month (in Palm Springs playing the Babolat World Classic adult age group national level 2 tournament) and got their thoughts on how they met, how couples can play (and stay) together doing it and why they are so gung-ho about tennis.
USTASW: What got you started in tennis?
Don: " We both were trying to find a fun way to get exercise. We discovered that we were both competitive. We liked the idea of trying to develop a set of skills that we could enjoy throughout our lives. Tennis was also comparatively inexpensive and a good aerobic activity.
Kathy: Before I ever met Don, a fellow chaperone of a high school ski trip asked if I played tennis. I had picked up a racquet a few times in college and thought it would be fun to play so I told her yes. We joined a local public outdoor facility that I thought was outrageously expensive at $20 for the summer, but that was the only place she’d play because a guy that she had gone out with a few times played there. She was the one who played tennis so what could I say.
Turns out we played almost every day. Picking up a racquet and "playing" creates such bad habits. But what did I know. I was having a great time.
USTASW: How long have you been married? How long have you been playing tennis together?
Don: We’ve been married over forty years and we’ve played tennis for that long except for about a ten year period when we concentrated on raising a family. We played infrequently then, and Kath hardly at all. Since arriving in Tucson in 2001 we’ve managed to play on a daily basis for about two hours or even more depending upon whether or not we were nursing an occasional injury.
Kathy: About my 10 year layoff. It wasn’t just having children. Remember those "bad habits" from question 1. Well one day after having won a local tournament and beating all the players ranked above me enroute I could no longer hit a forehand which had been the only "shot" I owned. One would go over the fence and the next would go to the bottom of the net.
My forehand WAS my game, but I had no idea how I hit it so had no idea how to get it back. I had no other shot, serve fell over with backspin, backhand somehow just got over the net. I’d run all the way back to the baseline rather than hit a volley and for the overhead, see "serve."
So for 11 summers (we both were educators so we had the summers off) Don would patiently hit balls to me so I could relearn the game of tennis. He still played some and when he developed tennis elbow he took up a two handed backhand so I did too. It got decent. We both worked on volleys and serves and overheads. Still I couldn’t play because I absolutely could not hit a forehand.
One day I was watching Monica Seles playing with a two handed forehand and said "Why not". I tried that and although it wasn’t great I could get it in the court. So 11 years after my "great win" the USTA put in a rating system, so when Don decided to get rated I said OK, I will too. I didn’t want to be a tennis widow, and besides I had loved to play, so I got rated, too.
USTASW: Has tennis been a huge part of your relationship all these years?
Don: We are tennis addicts. Within the last year we have rediscovered tournament competition via age group singles and mixed doubles events. We enjoy watching each other in singles and playing as a team in mixed.
Kathy: Tennis was, in fact, a big part of our being married in the first place. We played tennis at the same facility, had seen each other, but had never met. We were both ice skating one evening when Don and his friend recognized me from the tennis court. They needed a third for a "trio" skate and his friend suggested me. I didn’t live up to his ice skating standard. I could skate just fine, but on a tennis scale, maybe 3.0 to his 5.0. Never heard from him.
But we also met again on a ski slope. Luckily our sking levels were about the same. So he talked to me and got my number, but again never heard from him. A third chance meeting, this time at a teachers meeting (we both worked for the Cleveland Public Schools but in different buildings) was the charm.
Our first date was ice skating, but after that it was tennis every day after school. And except for that 11 year break its been that way ever since.
USTASW: We see you guys play in lots of tournaments together as a mixed couple. We know it's hard to sometimes play as a married pair. How do you two make that work - and be so successful at it?
Don: Mixed doubles can be challenging. However, we have always tried to keep everything in perspective. We both recognize that we are very fortunate to be able to play competitive tennis at this time in our lives. When we win a point or game we enjoy the moment.
Kathy: When we lose and//or play poorly we try to avoid blaming each other. Each or us tries to think or how he or she could have done something a little better to have contributed to a better outcome.. The process is imperfect at best but it averts serious conflict.
USTASW: When your spouse misses an easy shot…what's the first reaction usually?
Kathy: If it is just a shot missed I try to concentrate on the next point even harder. If its missed because of things we work on but he doesn’t deem "important" I try very hard not to be angry by repeating, "Remember, Kathy, he doesn't HAVE to play mixed. Forget it."
That usually works especially because I make the very same errors even though I think these things ARE important.
USTASW: How many matches have you two played together? Any one stand out more than the other? Don: To date we’ve competed in probably ten or twelve mixed doubles competitions. We probably win about half of our matches. We don’t remember individual contests won or lost so much as we remember the people we’ve been lucky enough to meet. We hope to establish relationships which extend beyond the tennis court.
Kathy: The same holds true for me but I do remember 2 more than others. One which allowed us to win the tournament against 2 very good players after loosing the first set. I’ll send the picture. The other is losing to a good team, but we were very ahead, maybe 5-1 in either the second or third set, AND the guy had to serve underhanded. We gave it away. Together, as a team. Just like we won the other one.
But as Don said, it really isn’t so much about winning or losing, but (even though it is a very old cliché), but how we play the game. Winning of course is much more fun, but we do like to play well. And the people we have met in tennis are a huge part of our lives. And we value that so much.
USTASW: You guys travel quite a bit and have played some husband-wife national tournaments even? How's that been, hitting the road so much for tennis?
Don: Most recently we’ve expanded our playing to out-of-state venues. These "road trips" are basically an exercise in what we call shameless self-indulgence. Though tennis is still a priority we also look forward to visiting with friends and sight-seeing when we travel. We only wish we had started these little adventures sooner. However, better sooner than later. Our mantra for whatever we do from here on in is,"If not now,, when?"
Kathy: When we were first married, before we had kids, we would pack our tent and travel to tournaments around Northern Ohio. It was really fun. A friend of ours had been trying to get us to play "tournament tennis" for about 4 or 6 years. We aren’t getting any younger so we finally said, "why not?"
But now we can afford a hotel. Back then it was a lot harder.
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