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For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
"Alice and I," Bonnie Gadusek singsongs. "Alice and I are a lot alike. We're both really, really lucky; neither of us can tolerate lateness, and both of us survived our falls." Alice fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Gadusek rebounded from an even more horrendous fall to become one of the top-ranked players in women's tennis.
Down, down, down. In 1976 Bonnie was a 12-year-old gymnast with Olympic hopes when she climbed onto the uneven bars one February afternoon at the Eva Gymnastics Club in Pittsburgh. While looping through a backseat circle, she missed the high bar. Gadusek fell eight feet, landing on her neck. She dislocated two vertebrae and spent two weeks in traction, her head immobilized by sandbags, her thin body strapped to a hospital bed. The unrelenting pressure on her jaw caused her to lose most of her back teeth.
For the next six months she had to wear a Milwaukee brace, a steel-reinforced corset as unyielding as a linesman at Wimbledon. "If Bonnie hadn't been a gymnast she would have been killed," says her mother, Sylvia, a nurse. "Most people with an injury like Bonnie's either die or become paraplegics."
Gadusek's Olympic dream was over. Her doctors said a second fall might be fatal. "It was almost as if I had lost a best friend," she says. Her parents and her older sisters, Annette and Darlene, visited her every day in the hospital. Three years earlier Darlene, then with the National Ballet of Canada, had broken several bones in one of her feet while dancing in Sleeping Beauty. Her ballet career was ended, but she came back to perform modern dance.
"Your arms and legs are free," Darlene told Bonnie. "Why can't you do something? You can't sit around and cry all day."
Darlene bought Bonnie a $5 tennis racket from K mart and took her out to hit balls against a backboard near their home. Bonnie would pretend she was beating Chris Evert, something she has yet to accomplish. "If I can't be the best gymnast," Bonnie said to her mother, "I'll be the best tennis player."
In the nine years since her accident, Gadusek has come remarkably close to her goal. Last year she was ranked eighth in the world before a virus forced her off the tour for more than three months. In 3½ years on the circuit, she has won $326,483. In 1982, only one year after turning pro, she reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. And last February she won her first title of importance, beating Kathy Horvath in the final of the Avon Cup at Marco Island, Fla.
You wouldn't expect someone who calls herself The Animal to be a frail sparrow, and indeed she isn't. Now 21, Gadusek is assertive, with an odd kind of knowing naiveté. "I'm like Alice," she repeats. "We're both cute and have blonde hair."
And they're both easily awed. "The ocean is so large, it overwhelms you," she says. "If there's anything I'd rather be than a human, it's one of those little birds with the tiny feet that run in and out of the waves and soar up into the sky out of danger. What better kind of life could there be than walking on the beach every day and seeing every sunrise and sunset? That has to be the fun-nest thing there could be."