Members of the Southwest Women's Team
© Jen Pottheiser
By J. Fred Sidhu, USTA.com
Indian Wells, Calif. – Each team competing at this weekend’s USTA League 4.0 Senior National Championships shares a love for tennis and the competition, but there is one team that shares an even stronger bond.
The USTA Southwest section 4.0 women’s team features three members with family in the United States military.
Ryan Johnson, the 27-year-old son of team captain Charlotte Johnson, serves in the U.S. Air Force as an Arabic Language Specialist and is based in the Middle East.
Team member Linda Gomez, who could not play due to an injury, will see her 26-year-old son, Zeke Gomez, deployed to Afghanistan on November 6 as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret.
Travis Dodson, a 24-year-old Marine, is the nephew of team member, Rhonda Letz. Dodson, a Purple Heart recipient, lost both of his legs in an explosion while serving in Iraq in 2007.
Despite his injuries, Dodson has become a world-class athlete and is part of the wheelchair racing team at the University of Arizona in Tucson. According to Letz, her nephew also participates in surfing, skiing, scuba diving and marathons.
The bond of having family members in the military has helped the women’s Southwest team become more than just a tennis team. They have formed a special closeness that goes beyond the usual experience of playing USTA League tennis.
“We just pray for each other all the time,” said Johnson, who also serves as president of the USTA Southwest section. “We’re close, it’s made us closer. It’s made us respect each other more deeply. We know there is a lot more in life than just tennis.”
Over the years, members of the team have supported each other during the happy and sad occasions life has to offer.
“So many times we look at tennis as a competition or as a sport,” Letz said. “Now we are living our lives through tennis. That brings us our prayer groups, our friendships, our families. We’ve had lots of weddings; we’ve had lots of funerals. We’ve buried our parents.”
Knowing that three family members are in the military, keeps things in perspective for Johnson and her team.
“That and all of the stuff we’ve been through together helps bring the team closer together,” Johnson said. “We even talked about that on the way over here. We said, ‘Okay ladies, let’s remember that it’s a privilege for us to be here and how lucky are we to be doing this when you’re 60 years old.’”
The USTA Southwest section 4.0 Senior women’s team finished Friday’s action in Flight No. 1 with a 1-1 record as they began the day with a 3-0 loss against the USTA Pacific Northwest section. They rebounded later in the day and defeated the USTA Caribbean section, 3-0.