[reprinted from Bellingham Athletic Club Newsletter]
A lesson in courage and grace
Bellingham Athletic Club was privileged to witness a powerful lesson this past Northwest Open Racquetball Tournament. Sharon Chandler is an accomplished racquetball player competing at the Women’s A/Elite level Singles and Doubles Tournaments throughout the Northwest. With her long time partner JoAnn Johnson, Sharon also travelled yearly to successfully compete at many Women’s Senior Master National Championships. Sharon is a caring, genuine woman who made racquetball a big part of her life. Wanda Collins BAC’s Racquetball Pro reminisces: I have learned a lot about the game from her over the years: she has always been an integral part of the racquetball program at BAC. We watched her daughters grow up at the club and she was one of the ﬁrst to make this a family place: she embraced ALL of us as part of her racquetball family. Sharon is a life loving, honest athlete who has inﬂuenced a multitude of members and made our lives better by knowing her on and of the court.
Sharon was diagnosed with lung cancer July 2013, and of this writing is given only months to live. Although struggling with weight loss, energy loss and pain she has continued to play racquetball. So it was a bit of surprise as the Northwest Open Tournament loomed that she asked fellow morning player Karin Hoekema if she wanted to play doubles. Karin agreed, little knowing the incredible journey awaiting her. Karin and Sharon had 3 matches to play over the tournament weekend, they made it through to the ﬁnals! Their match was the last one of the tournament, a long weekend for everyone starting Thursday and ending Sunday evening. Normally the crowd would have thinned, but all stayed to watch and support Sharon and Karin in their bid to win their doubles division. They won the ﬁrst game, lost the second game; requiring a tiebreaker game to 11. The players watching were clapping and cheering. Sharon was spent, battling nausea the whole match. All were worried that she would not be able to complete the game. Out she came from the locker room, a little unsteady, but with her smile ﬁrmly in place. I’ll let Sharon’s partner Karin pick up the story from here:
“Based on Sharon’s lack of energy by now and multiple trips to the restroom where she had been vomiting I felt we could notpull it off. Our last game, a tie-breaker to 11, proved long and tiring. We were down initially so I just accepted we weren’tgoing to win. “At least Sharon would have some enjoyment and undoubtedly feel the love of her friends and fans” I thought. With each classic winning shot so characteristic of Sharon, the crowd roared with cheers and was seen to do the “wave” a few times in praise. I was so proud of her!
Somehow we hung in there and it was 9-10. Our opponents each had a turn serving and chance to pick up the one winning point. A miracle for us, this did not happen. I served 9-10 and got us up to 10-10. The pressure was mounting. All eyes from the gallery were on us. My internal pressure was intense on top of my physical exhaustion (along with Sharon’s). Before serving I faced the crowd, put my hands together, looked up and asked God to please let this happen. Shockingly, we won 11-10. I hugged Sharon and, stepping out of the court overwhelmed with emotion, cried. Such mixed feelings of joy for Sharon, witnessing the love expressed by those observers, sympathy for her evident pain and sickness, and a realization this was probably her last hurrah. I went into this experience with hopes of being a blessing to my dying friend but came out being incredibly blessed by her! She has shown me and many others how to live everyday to the fullest despite knowing the end is near. She has not given up. She is still active, joyful in spirit, and loving. What a testament!”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Recounting the story at our staf meeting following the tournament had the same result. We are so blessed to be part of the BAC family, such caring support for whatever challenges our members face. They are there for each other, pitching in if rides or meals are needed, encouragement, congratulations, or condolences. I couldn’t have picked a better partner for Sharon, Karin Hoekema handled the difcult weekend with such grace and caring for a terriﬁc BAC member. As Mili Blok
said “it was so moving just to feel the love and see the tears and to just realize that what happened that night was just an awesome example true deep friendship and love! “ Sharon and Karin, you are an inspiration to us all. Thanks for showing us how to live well and face our own challenges.