Adams had starred in three sports (track, volleyball, softball) in high school in Costa Mesa, and discovered racquetball only after an Orange Coast Junior College classmate suggested a court date. She beat him first time out. "Funny, never saw him again after that," she says.
A natural athlete, she developed quickly as she gained experience: Rookie of the Year and ranked No. 6 in '79; No. 3 in '81, losing to McKay in the national finals; No. 1 and national champion in '82. Today, with seven national indoor and outdoor titles to her credit, she's regarded as the quickest, deadliest shotmaker in the game.
Adams has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis in her knuckles, knees and various other joints since her teens. The condition flares up after climate changes or when she is under stress. The arthritis doesn't often affect her game, although one morning four years ago she woke up and found she couldn't straighten out her fingers. "Lynn wrapped her hand around the racquet and played anyway," said Jim Carson, who holds a dual role as husband/coach. "She didn't play like her usual self, but she won. Most of the time, it's a controllable condition." Today, Adams speaks on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation at fund-raisers.
To be competitive with McKay, Adams had to overcome a different challenge: fear. "It seemed every time I played Heather in a big match my game would fall apart," she says.
When her won-lost record against McKay dipped to a dismal 2-6 in February 1982, Adams and Carson took a trip to the San Bernardino Mountains. They checked into a cabin and began a long, hard examination of the player and her game. "We were there for about a week," says Adams. "We got into everything. We ended up screaming a lot, and I did a lot of crying."
"Lynn just couldn't bring herself to overcome Heather as a role model," says Carson. "I told her, 'You have to stop saying, "nice shot." You have to kick her butt.' "
Adams heeded the advice and won four of her next five finals with McKay. She finished '82 with a 36-2 record, attaining both the national championship and the No. 1 ranking.
But as it happens in this friendly punch-counterpunch relationship, McKay got mad—and even. Last season she put together a 25-2 record, beating Adams in four of six matches and reclaiming both the title and the No. 1 ranking.
"I wanted to win the WPRA National very badly," says McKay, who defeated—who else?—Adams in a tense, five-game tiebreaker in the nationals, becoming No. 1 in the process. "Usually I only work out three times a week, but I practiced a great deal before the nationals."
Not surprisingly, McKay is back this year to defend her honors. "I've been a competitor all my life," she says. "I've got a couple of years left."