The 4,0 Senior Southern women's team.
© Joe Murphy
By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – If the Southern Section women’s team playing in this weekend’s USTA League 4.0 Senior National Championships had a team song, it would most likely be Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit from the late 1970s, 'I Will Survive.'
The song, which earned a Grammy Award in 1980 for Best Disco Recording, would be the perfect fit for the team, which includes four cancer survivors among the 10 team members.
The four women, Peggy Rinaldi (breast cancer survivor), Donna Buchman (breast cancer survivor), Mary Beth Poncin (thyroid and breast cancer survivor) and Pam Olsen (melanoma survivor) all battled the disease in the past, one as recently as a few months ago. However, all four women are now cancer-free and playing in the National Championships.
"We’re a very close team. All of this has brought us together," said Sheila Reitler, the team captain. " We’re not only tennis players and a team, but we’re friends. We enjoy each other’s company and we’re there for each other every step of the way."
Team member Peggy Rinaldi, who battled breast cancer three years ago, said, "People who play together and pray together, stay together, so that is the basic theory for our team."
Reitler, who describes the trip to the Nationals as "a once in a lifetime thing," added, "We’ve all been praying. God has blessed us. He has the answer to our prayers. We all feel really blessed to be together and have each other."
Rinaldi says playing tennis has played a key in her recovery. "My oncologist says the best thing you can do is to keep exercising and keep busy because otherwise you just fade away and it (cancer) could come out somewhere else. She’s encouraging me to keep as active as I can."
Playing at this weekend’s Nationals has been a special experience for the team, which is based in the community of Lake Norman, a suburb of Charlotte, N.C. Eight of the ten team members have been accompanied by their husbands this week.
"We feel dually blessed to have them here supporting us," Rinaldi said.
What asked to summarize her team’s season, Rinaldi responded, "We bonded as a team because of the pain we’ve endured. We are so thankful we can still play tennis."