The fate of her USTA League Mixed 18 & Over 9.0 team was in the hands of Lelibeth Gloria in the USTA Eastern Sectional final back in June, as a trip to Tucson, Ariz., and a chance at 2013 National Championship glory laid on both her racquet and the racquet of doubles partner Brian Quiban. The duo charged back from a 2-8 deficit in a deciding super tiebreak to take the match and lift the squad from New York City to victory.
“We never lost confidence,” said Quiban, remembering the moment. “We remained poised and resilient. Soon after we won, we found out we had clinched our team’s ticket to Nationals.”
Gloria won that day, yet lost her battle with breast cancer four months later at the age of 49 -- just three weeks before the team was to depart for Tucson.
While working as the director of admissions at the Hollis Park Nursing Home in Queens, N.Y., Gloria received an initial diagnosis of cancer in 2008. The first round of treatment was successful, and Gloria was in remission until the beginning of 2011, when she had to tell her husband and three children that the cancer had returned. While undergoing treatment, Gloria continued to enjoy competitive tennis and even captained her own women’s team that spring -- one that eventually made it to Sectionals, just like the last team she would ever play on.
The team's co-captain, Roslyn Chua-McAlonie, credits the competitive drive of Gloria to the team’s overall success.
“Lelibeth had a strong, unwavering spirit,” said Chua-McAlonie. “After they clinched that win in Sectionals, we were on a high at our practices knowing our team had the ability to play with such grit to pull off big wins.
“The team dynamic suddenly changed with our loss of Lelibeth -- we all felt a melancholy wash over the team.”
Yet Eastern forged on. The 12-member team had socks made up in Gloria’s favorite color, pink -- also the color designated for breast cancer awareness -- and personalized them with ribbons, as well as her name printed down the back.
The team finished fourth in their flight at the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center, failing to qualify for the semifinals on Championship Sunday. The victory that came to USTA Eastern during their time in the desert was knowing that they carried on, making their fallen teammate proud, wherever she may be watching.
“We not only wanted to achieve what we worked hard for all season, but to play in memory of our teammate,” said Chua-McAlonie. “We want to let her know that although she may not be here with us in body, she is nonetheless here with us in spirit and always will be.”
“Her resilience and strong willed character personified our team,” added Quiban. “I will always remember and love Lelibeth for her strength and fortitude as a person on and off the court.”