Gold With A Twist

by Sarah White

Let’s start on the night of May 7, 2011.  Remembering the date is easy because I was the Maid of Honor in my friend’s wedding.   All was going well.  There was dancing, toasts, and good company.  The time came, though, for the party to end.  So, Jenn left first to go get the car.  I said my good-byes, gave out hugs, and left with a smile on my face.

And, then, it happened.
I was almost down the stone steps of the historic villa when I rolled my ankle and slammed knee first to the sidewalk below.
Yes, I may have cursed.
I remember sitting there, staring up into the lights of the reception, hearing people’s laughter and thinking, “Ouch.  I just really sprained my ankle.”
I’ve sprained both ankles enough times to know what it feels like, and I knew this one was a doozy.
I limped to the car and explained what happened to Jenn, who said, “Well, I guess you won’t be playing in the Pickleball tournament in Terra Haute.”
My heart sank.  I had planned to play singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.  Instead, that weekend, I ended up at the score table with a wrap around my ankle.
Still, I had hopes to play in Huntley the next weekend.
That Friday, Jenn and I met up in Huntley, and for the first time since the spraining, I ran on the ankle.  It hurt more than I thought it would, and that night, it swelled up.   The next day in the car, Jenn and I decided that we would have to tell the tournament director that I wouldn’t be able to play.
I cried.
The next day, the tournament director came around a few times, and I kept thinking, “I need to tell her that I can’t play, so that she can adjust the brackets or maybe find Jenn someone else to play with.”
But the words always stopped at the back of my throat.  I wasn’t ready to quit just yet.   My ankle felt strangely better, and I practiced on it with some fellow Picklers.  Jenn and I played some warm-up doubles matches.   We hadn’t played together in weeks.  I hadn’t played Pickleball in over a month.
But, nobody ever accused Jenn and me of not being dogged.
D-day.  Sunday.   We grabbed our paddles, tightened the laces on our shoes, and we stepped onto the courts ready for whatever the day would bring.
To our surprise, we played well our first match.   In our second match, Connie and Rita, a formidable Rockford pair, gave us a good workout.   All the while, we kept a close eye on Margaret and Tammy and their host of opponents.
Then, we squared off with the team that had the courts buzzing.  They were two lean, mean Picklers with knee-braces and plenty of power.   Somehow with our combination of spin shots and net play, we defeated them easily.
We made it to the final!  Win or lose, we would medal–something we thought would be impossible the day before.
Everyone else had finished play and gathered on the bleachers around the court.  Electric fans hummed but did little to cut the stuffy heat of that gymnasium.  The sweat dripped off our foreheads.
We had to play the ladies with the knee-braces and deep tans that reflected their hours of Pickleball play already this summer.  This time, though, they were ready for us.
They easily took two games from us.  No matter what we tried, they seem prepared. 

We had one more chance.  Because we had entered the final undefeated, we would play one last game to fifteen points for the title.
Jenn and I drank our water and discussed strategy.
Still, the ladies jumped to a 4-0 lead.  The gym felt even stuffier and suffocating.
We managed to stay fairly close to them and reached a score of 8-6 (their lead).  But, suddenly, our strategies and shots shifted; we were making a dent.  I was ready for the lobs.  I flattened out the spin.  Jenn made strong shots from the net.
At the end of one amazing rally, Jenn turned to me and said, “Can you feel it?”
The momentum had changed.
We clawed our way to 8-8, and the game held at that score for seemingly hours.
And, then, it happened.
The score turned in our favor.
We would eventually win 15-9.  We had ground out a win.   Our doggedness was now becoming the stuff of legend.   We never gave up and played every point like it was the first.
In tennis, they call it “winning ugly.”  In Pickleball, we just call it “winning.”
Our adventure, though, was not over.  We had to travel back to Rockford from Huntley.  Normally, such a drive can be taken through scenic back country roads.  On this particular day, the sky towards Rockford was a deep purple–not unlike the color of my sprain.
We had heard that Rockford was experiencing a tornado warning, and we would later learn that there were three F1 tornadoes in the area through which we drove.
Such news did not surprise us, though, because as we drove, we could see the laden shelf cloud in the sky.  Something was not right in the air.  It brought to mind the famed quote from Macbeth, “Something wicked this way comes…”
Debris started blowing across the road, and as we looked to our left and right, we could see large swirls of dirt rising up from the fields.  We drove through a wall of loose dirt; our visibility to reduced to mere feet.
We stayed calm, and Jenn powered us through the storm.
As we arrived in Rockford to find no electricity and plenty of downed tree limbs, we definitely knew that these were two experiences that we would remember for the rest of our lives.