By Richard Dedor, USTA.com
TUCSON, Ariz. - Both Sheila Johnson and Carol Gay were high ranked juniors growing up. They played the game and they were good at it. Almost forty years after their first meeting, they have found the fountain of youth together on the tennis court.
The two first met back when they were the top juniors from their respective sections at a national junior event in Wilmington, Del. They were teamed up to play doubles and had an instant connection. The same age, but in different grades, Gay, of San Diego, accepted a full scholarship to play tennis at Arizona State. At the time, it was one of only a few colleges in the country offering full athletic scholarships to women.
After one year on the team, Gay was able to get Johnson a place on the team as well. Johnson, of Peoria, Ariz., played on the team for three years, but left prior to her senior season. Time passed and then marriage and children came and tennis slipped to the back of her mind.
Meanwhile, Gay was also starting a family. All three of her children became athletes and her two daughters were competitive tennis players.
But then Johnson decided after retiring from teaching that she wanted take tennis lessons again. Soon thereafter, she was a member of the Grand Canyon University women’s tennis team. “It was a spur of the moment thing,” Johnson said of joining the team. “I’d always remembered that I still had that one year [of eligibility] remaining.”
It was the experience of a lifetime to play on the team with young players. News outlets from all across the country came calling: Sports Illustrated, TennisWeek.com, CNN and NPR.
There families are now grown and the two play together all the time. And they couldn’t ask for more. “We just love playing together,” Johnson said.
They now play national events together and are ranked #24 in the women’s 60 doubles. “Our friendship is much deeper simply because we play tennis together,” Gay said.
The two have found they have more fun together now on the court than when they were younger. Maybe it was the time away. Maybe it’s because they are just great friends. “The great thing about tennis is that you can leave and come back,” Johnson said.
“It’s a great sport and it’s how I’ve made my friends,” Gay said.
The two plan to keep playing together despite various injuries and surgeries over the years because they are enjoying their time on the court.
Both smiling after a tough morning match Saturday and Johnson injured the day before, they still talk about their next tournament. Maybe it’s the company that keeps them coming back. Maybe it’s the time on the court. Or maybe it’s both. Whatever the reason, the two keep coming back to the court.
Forever friends. Forever young.