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Surviving and Living Strong

Tracey Houle in action.
The Down the Line Divas watching their team play.
Big win for The Down the Line Divas.

By Kevin Wittner, USTA.com

TUCSON, Ariz. - When 34 teams fill a tennis center, as they have for this weekend’s 2009 USTA League 3.0 Adult National Championships, it is often difficult to pick one team out from the crowd. This weekend, however, the Down the Line Divas are hard to miss.

The women’s team from New Haven, Conn., is wearing bright yellow LIVESTRONG uniforms. They easily stand out among the 400-plus players roaming around Reffkin Tennis Center.

Yet the meaning behind the team’s uniforms goes far beyond a clever color scheme or the latest fashion trend. With three cancer survivors on the team, and the memories of loved ones who have lost their lives to the disease. Team captain Liz Pouyat, who is currently battling thyroid cancer, felt outfitting the team in LIVESTRONG uniforms would be a meaningful tribute to the team’s her own ongoing battle, the team’s two other cancer survivors and to those who have lost loved ones to the disease. The LIVESTRONG brand, which donates $1 to cancer research per item purchased, was made popular by seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and his foundation. Additionally, the team brought LIVESTRONG bracelets as part of their gift exchange with the other teams in their flight.

Puoyat’s battle is on-going. Other team members, including Bridget Usher, know what she faces.

“Four years ago, they found nodules on my thyroid and after my son was born there was a little bump,” Usher says. “So the doctor watched them for a couple years and nothing happened. Then I didn’t go back to the doctor. Eventually and it was cancerous so they removed my thyroid gland and gave me radioactive iodine, which kills all the cancer cells.”

Prior to Pouyat or Usher’s respective diagnoses, however, team member Tracey Houle faced her own battle.

A former fencing prodigy, Houle had a successful career in corporate consulting when she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2001.

“Because it was so advanced at Stage III, I went through a complete mastectomy, chemotherapy, lost my hair,” Houle recalls. “You just dig in and ask, ‘how are we going to fight this thing?’ That’s what it’s all about.”

Fight is exactly what Houle did. She won her battle, has been cancer free for eight years and self-describes enjoying the best overall health in her life.

The experience changed Houle to the point that she sold her business and went back to school to obtain a degree from the Institute of Integrated Nutrition to launch a career in holistic health counseling. Focused on improving her overall wellness, Houle began exercising for the first time since her fencing days of 20 years ago and proceeded to shed 40 pounds when she took up tennis and competitive sailing.

In addition to her work in health counseling and athletic endeavors, Houle is active in the breast cancer awareness community, recently completing a 39-mile, two-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York. With this being breast cancer awareness month, she is currently fundraising for the upcoming Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in New Haven, Conn. Those who wish to contribute to her team can do so by clicking here or logging on to the American Cancer Society’s Web site.

For now, the Down the Line Divas are ready to take on their competition. You can’t miss them. They’ll be the team in yellow.

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Find a 2009 National Championship:

Apr. 9-11, 2010
Senior Mixed Invitational
Orlando, FL

Apr. 23-25, 2010
6.0 & 8.0 Super Senior
Surprise , AZ

Apr. 30 - May 2, 2010
7.0 & 9.0 Super Senior
Surprise , AZ

Oct. 2-4, 2009
5.0 Adult | 4.0 Adult

Oct. 9-11, 2009
2.5 Adult | 3.0 Adult

Oct. 16-18, 2009
3.5 Adult | 4.0 Senior

Oct. 23-25, 2009
4.5 Senior | 3.5 Senior

Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, 2009
4.5 Adult | 3.0 Senior

Nov. 20-22, 2009
2.5, 6.0 & 8.0 Mixed

7.0, 9.0 & 10.0 Mixed

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