The Stuff Legends Are Made Of

January 29, 2024
January 29, 2024 Betsy Voreacos

The Stuff Legends Are Made Of

My three sisters and I grew up perched beneath the pedestal listening to our larger-than-life father retell story after story. So many of his narratives revolved around his athletic prowess which amused, impressed and made us ever-determined to chase sports dreams of our own. 

Of course back then, Title IX was in its infancy and there were no Olivia Dunne’s making millions off of NIL deals. And so, our lofty aspirations hit the ceiling with landing a spot on the high school team.

My father, George, was a standout athlete at Ambler High School, as was well documented by many varsity letters and a scrapbook filled with news clippings from the Ambler Gazette and the Philadelphia Bulletin. One of his favorite tales to tell was when he broke his nose playing basketball. He delighted in the fact that he bled all over the brand new gymnasium floor at Springfield High School but refused to come off the court. Because of course in those days, you didn’t have to.

My father was captain of the basketball, football and baseball teams and went on to play baseball and football at Dartmouth College. There was the story that ended with him kicking his helmet into the stands and another had him playing baseball against George Bush the elder – who was then nothing but another George – once the Georges had returned to their respective colleges after the war.

In his grown-up years, my father was an avid, year-round, weekend golfer, taking off only when the greens were covered with snow – and on Christmas – the one day of the year my mother prohibited him from playing. Over the course of 50-plus years on the links, he boasted three holes-in-one. Whether it was luck, skill or cosmic alignment, it still looks good on the resume.  

Having never spawned that coveted son, his four girls were raised to watch, play and care deeply about sports. We banged tennis balls against the back of the house, hit plastic golf balls across the front yard, jogged with the dog around the block, shot baskets in the driveway, swung at a tether ball hanging from a tree in the woods, played four square on the street, ping pong in the basement, and softball for the Wildcats, a team coached by none other than my father. We consistently watched the Phillies, the Sixers, the Eagles and every golf tournament that was ever televised. In high school I played lacrosse and field hockey and even played in college for one full week.

Beyond playing softball with the financially-famous Ron Insana and David Faber when we all worked at CNBC, and infamously striking out Bianca Jagger (yes, that Jagger) at my ever-loving spouse’s company softball game, I hadn’t played an organized sport in decades. Unless recovering from hip and knee replacements or sidelined with other surgeries, I have always walked, bicycled and dabbled in heart-pumping cardio conditioning at the local gym. But other than being Apple watch fitness buddies with my sister, daughter, niece, and friend Ann, I hadn’t  competed with anyone but myself in a long, long time.

Though I was internally hesitant last summer when my friend, Robin, asked if I wanted to round out her pickleball foursome, I responded with a resounding YES! After all, I was an athlete. How hard could it be?

I loved the game immediately and thought I was oh, so good. I could land a serve into that far back corner, keeping it in bounds by mere centimeters, most of the time. I was able to hit the ball out of the air, and go back-and-forth, back-and-forth, until the other team slammed it over my head. I could often keep the score straight and loved watching my heart rate rise on my aforementioned watch.

We were taught the basics by Rita, a patient and knowledgeable coach who went on to become a favored off-the-court chum. We played outdoors until the temperatures plummeted and Rita encouraged us to seek out an indoor facility. Playing with random strangers in a weather-controlled environment would surely help us reach our pickleball potential.

Robin and I found a place to pickle and we headed with confidence to bergenpickleballzone, signing up for Low-intermediate Open Play, where 18 people rotate in and out of games for an hour-and-a-half. We clearly weren’t beginners – after all, we had played at Overpeck Park a good fifteen times – so figured Low-intermediate was exactly where we belonged. If we proved to be too advanced for the rest of the group, we’d humbly move to a higher level.

With my brand new paddle in hand – a very fun and fashionable one, I might add – I strutted my way onto the court. It didn’t take long before the eye rolls and loud sighs confirmed that I was definitely not where I was supposed to be. Suffice it to say that those sighs and eye rolls were not in response to perfectly executed spin shots or awesomely extended volleys.

It took me a couple of weeks to muster up the courage to return. But when I did, I signed up for a string of instructive clinics run by the very accomplished, not to mention supportive and adorably lovely Cindy. One of her gifts is being able to divvy us up into groups without the less-skilled realizing they’d been teamed with the even lesser-than skilled. Her classes gave me the courage to sign up for another open play session. But I’m no masochist, so this time I joined the beginners. And while I was clearly not one of the top players, even my self-deprecating self admitted I was not the absolute worst.

Still, I internally reeled. “How can I be so bad at this? I’m an athlete!”

To which my past responded, “Or are you?”

And so I looked at my life through the lens of hindsight. It’s a full truth that as a high school hockey goalie I prayed that the ball stay on the other half of the field way harder than I ever prayed when lying on a gurney awaiting my double mastectomy. Full disclosure, when I was Junior Junior (not even Junior) Golf Champion that summer, it was because there were only two other kids in the tournament and one of them forfeited. And I have to confess, the reason I didn’t play basketball had nothing to do with being too short, but rather being too short of breath running those suicide sprints.

Putting aside my past, my genes, my pride, I’m determined to keep pickling as long as my limbs allow. I’ll play with the best and worst of them – those who have inflated egos or deflated senses of self, those who were former tennis players or are current bake-off champions, those who roll their eyes when I swing and miss and those who laugh at themselves when they do the same.

I may not be the stuff legends are made of, but the fact is, I am who I am . And who I am became abundantly clear when I paid my monthly membership dues, unabashedly clicking the Senior Discount button.