Betsy Gravett of Freemont, Calif
© Juan Ocampo/USTA
By Hillary Moore
Betsy Gravett of Freemont, Calif., is at the USTA League presented by Chrysler 3.0 Senior National Championships with the team from Mission Hills Tennis Club representing USTA Northern California. Officially she is here as “Coach”, but unofficially she is here as much more. A lifelong player, instructor and coach, Betsy knows a thing or two about tennis. As a 14-year cancer survivor, she also knows a thing or two about grabbing the bull by the horns and living life to the fullest.
In 1994, doctors found a tumor in Betsy’s brain and she was diagnosed with a grade three Astrocytoma. Not only did they tell her she had a brain tumor but she was given 12-18 months to live. Cut to 2008, and not only is Betsy still alive but she’s leading a team to the USTA League National Championships for the fourth time. Each year is as special as the one before. She’s also eager for competition to get underway. “ I was so anxious last night I didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 in the morning,” she said.
Throughout the 14 years she has been dealing with the brain tumor, she has never put her racquet down. In fact, when she’s not coaching, Betsy is playing right through it. She doesn’t worry too much when she’s not feeling her best on court but she does worry about her doubles partners. “The medication I take to manage the tumor will sometimes cause me to have a seizure and it has happened during a match. My partners know what to do in that situation but they are always very worried…until the seizure ends and then I just want to know if we won the point.”
Betsy credits tennis and the support of her team for keeping her going when times get tough. “The kindness of the human spirit is overwhelming. The ladies on this team have done everything for me. When I was losing my hair, they threw me hat parties. After treatments when I can’t remember anything, the girls baby-sit me. This team will do anything for me and they’ll do anything for each other.”
Although the ladies of Mission Hills Tennis Club have done a lot for Betsy, she’s provided just as much if not more for them and the other people whose lives she’s touched. A member of the team and long-time friend, Patricia Chadwell explains that what Betsy does for the team transcends the skills she’s taught them on court. “She’s a great tennis coach but it’s not about that. She is a just a phenomenal person with a huge heart and a ton of wisdom. The determination she has shown while fighting the cancer and all with a great attitude…it’s just incredible. We’ve all learned so much about life from her.”
Beyond her team, Betsy has used her love of tennis to assist other families who have faced similar experiences she and her family have had to deal with in their battle with cancer. In 1995, Betsy and one of her doubles partners planned a weekend tennis tournament to raise money to help in the fight against cancer. In its first year of operation, the tennis tournament raised over $10,000. It became an annual event so successful that Betsy was able to form the Betsy Gravett Cancer Foundation which disperses money to families battling cancer so that they are able to cover such things as day-to-day living expenses. Since 1995, the number of tennis tournament participants continued to swell and over $50,000 was raised in each of the last two years the tournament was run.
It’s hard to believe that someone facing the obstacles Betsy has can remain so steadfast in her optimism and perseverance. She’s lead her tennis team to the national championships and given back to the community all while prevailing over an illness that was supposed to have taken her life years ago. “I’m lucky because I love what I do…tennis is so special because you can keep it for yourself and yet you can always find a way to share it.”
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