Centennial Spotlight Story: Gwendolyn G. Holmes
From flight attendant to a Professional Line Umpire at ATP / WTA events, Gwendolyn G. “Gigi” Holmes’s journey through life is a testimony to her desire to make an impact while staying active.
As a native of Norfolk, Virginia, Gigi received her bachelors at Norfolk State University and then obtained her graduate degree at Florida State University. She retired as a flight attendant and owned a small business. Then, she sold the business and embraced the role of caretaker as her husband was diagnosed with MS.
As Gigi was in her mid-50’s (about 17 years ago), she decided to take beginner lessons at the Owl Creek Tennis Center in Virginia Beach as a way to take a break from her caregiving role and meet other people. Six weeks and $25 later, she was looking to join a local team. “I started to gather other players who were beginners and I am not sure how it happened … but I became the captain of my league team.” In her second year of playing, she met a captain who asked her to join a team – early success proved to be contagious.
“We played local and won. And then we went to districts. We didn’t win, but it was pretty cool. It was my first time seeing a tennis official. We played a team from Richmond, we went into a game tiebreak, then it was a set tiebreak, and the official guided us through it. We lost but I had the time of my life for 2 hours and 30 minutes. It was the team comradery and the social aspect. It just took me away. I was enjoying myself. I was hooked.”
After that experience, Gigi told her League Coordinator she wanted to do mixed doubles. She went to Regionals two years in a row as a player and captain. Another captain recruited Gigi for her team … Gigi went on to play at Nationals despite nursing an injury from a cycling accident in October 2017.
Given her success as a player, Gigi transitioned to a new role as the Mid-Atlantic coordinator for the 65-and-over league. She enjoys being part of USTA Mid-Atlantic increasing access to tennis. “I encouraged so many folks to get involved. It just made my heart sing to see people who are much older than me and they are still playing. I think it’s great. They are active and they have a goal in mind. Goals are good, I don’t care how old you are.”
In 2019, one of Gigi’s players asked her a technical question. “I did research on the website and found the answer. Then, I became interested in becoming a tennis official and took a test and did well. I took many courses in my five months, and I could tell it was a natural fit.”
After Gigi’s husband passed away after a long battle with MS in 2020, Gigi “knew it was time to take myself out of my comfort zone and that is why I began to pursue all the aspects of being an official.” In her officiating role, she sees a wide variety in skill level and finds it fulfilling, “because I can keep everyone honest. For example, I like showing the high school players that officials are not just rule keepers, we are people too. You can approach me. I like working locally, because I know I’m giving back. When I travel for higher profile events, that’s the aspect of officiating that more for me.”
She quickly became immersed in officiating and has easily added high school, collegiate and adult Regionals and Sectionals league matches to her resume. Exactly five years later from her first visit to Nationals as a player, she went back to the USTA National Campus to attend USTA’s Center of Excellence for Professional Line Umpire in October 2022. “It was an awesome moment to think about my first visit as a Nationals player to being a student of an elite school,” explains Gigi. Now, ATP / WTA events are part of her current officiating schedule.
When asked about the longevity of USTA Mid-Atlantic and why it’s endured for 100 years, Gigi firmly states, “It’s organization. The USTA Mid-Atlantic is really good at bringing people together and keeping them playing tennis. If it were not for them, then it would not be possible for people to play together for so long. Comradery and the social aspect is a big part of the experience and it has improved with providing more opportunities for players to participate in the postseason. I really know they care about keeping people in the game.”
When asked to describe USTA Mid-Atlantic using three words, she responded with: “Pressure. Fun. Team Spirit.” We definitely agree!
Gigi Holmes is one of many incredible people contributing to the legacy and longevity of tennis in the Mid-Atlantic region. As part of our Centennial Celebration we are putting the spotlight on people, places, programs and the impact of tennis happening now and from the past. You can get involved by sharing your story too and by joining us on December 1, 2023 to celebrate at the Centennial Gala!