SI Vault
Janice Kaplan
January 16, 1978
I played tennis with Hazel Wightman one April day, not long before she died. She was old then. 87. and I was still a teenager. We had never played together before, and when I came into her house that day, it didn't seem likely that we ever would. Mrs. Wightman was lying on her bed. and she apologized for not having enough energy to sit up. She looked very feeble, and she sighed when she told me that she hadn't picked up a racket in months.
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January 16, 1978

A Teen-ager Inspired An 87-year-old Tennis Champ To Play One More Game

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All at once I realized that the choice to win or lose wasn't mine. Mrs. Wightman's eyes were shining. With racket in hand, she was once again alive.

I don't know how long we hit those balls—maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour—but Mrs. Wightman didn't miss one shot that came near her. With each swing she was battling the newfangled pros who didn't understand the Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman method of better tennis and better life. She hit one ball that went soaring past me, and when I looked up to smile, she put down her racket and called that we had played long enough. I went over to take her arm, and she leaned heavily on me as we walked back to the house. "I'm glad we played." she said. "I've gotten too lazy lately. You have to keep active to be happy."

The sun had settled a bit when we got inside, and Mrs. Wightman sank into a deep chair. She offered me fudge and a few more memories, but mostly we sat quietly in the darkening room. She had dropped her tennis racket somewhere, and as I looked at her now, I saw an old woman, far too frail and withered to play a game. Her housekeeper came by and suggested that it was time for Mrs. Wightman to return to bed.

I'll never know what inspired Mrs. Wightman's sudden strength that afternoon or why, once our game was over, she faded so rapidly. I saw her only once afterward, but she was in a wheelchair then and we barely spoke. After a cursory greeting I walked away, preferring to remember that one special afternoon when the old champ was active and a young admirer learned her lessons.

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