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Kathy Kahan pauses between bites of her homemade Irish soda bread and tries to remember when she beat Chris Evert. It had to be a few years before Kahan first performed with the Ice Follies, which would be a couple of decades before she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in golf. She's sure of that.
"I must have been 12," she says, finally, picking at the bread. "And Chrissie was probably two years younger, starting out just like I was. I know it was at her father's park in Florida. I beat her in a local tournament, while I was in Fort Lauderdale visiting my uncle, but I don't remember what the scores were. It didn't mean anything until she became famous."
O.K., so maybe Kahan was virtually a teenager and Evert had only just hit the big one-oh. Still, Chris Evert. Beating her is a feat that Kahan, now a 38-year-old mother of two who lives in Longwood, Fla., a suburb of Orlando, could boast about for the rest of her life. But that's not Kalian's style. When pressed to talk about her athletic experiences—rallying with Arthur Ashe, twirling on ice with Peggy Fleming or, most recently, climbing the U.S. amateur golf rankings to No. 40—she just shrugs and says, "it happens when you're involved in sports."
Well, on Fantasy Island maybe, but such accomplishments are not among those typical of a suburban mom.
Kahan first got involved with sports while growing up in Gladwyne, Pa., on Philadelphia's Main Line. Her father, Ted Leydon, was an executive with Scott Paper Co., but he could take or leave sports. The same was true of Kahan's older sister, Tina, and her younger brother, Ted. However, Kathy's mother, Betty, played tennis, and she introduced her daughter to ice skating when Kathy was five. By the time she was 16, Kathy had toe-looped and Axeled her way into the chorus line of the Philadelphia productions of the Ice Follies, which at the time featured Fleming. Kahan's big moment came when the troupe made giant pinwheels on the ice. Of course, she shared the moment with 29 other spangled skaters.
"Still, it was the Ice Follies," says Kahan. "It was a thrill to be on the ice with Peggy Fleming in front of 10,000 people. You couldn't freeze up. You had to perform."
She also played field hockey and lacrosse at the Shipley School, in Bryn Mawr, was No. 1 or 2 for the Merion Cricket Club's junior squash team and swam breaststroke for Gladwyne's Stony Lane Swim Club. But her favorite haunt was the Gladwyne Park tennis courts. That's where she developed the forehand that helped her qualify for the 12-and-under hard-court nationals in Burlingame, Calif. Kahan's parents, who didn't particularly want their daughter traveling across the country to play tennis, agreed to let Kathy go alone (she would be staying with family friends), provided she earned the money for the trip. They never dreamed she would actually raise the money. Eleven-year-old Kathy, however, was determined to make the trip to California, and she decided that the quickest way to earn her airfare was to go into the catering business. "It was easy," says Kahan. "I just called up all my parents' friends and said, 'What can I cook for you?" "
Four-hundred dollars' worth of meat loaves, pigs in the blanket, casseroles and brownies later, Kahan was in Burlingame. She lost in the third round, but the experience wasn't a total loss. Seventeen years later Kahan would draw on her knowledge of recipes to cowrite a cookbook entitled Juicy Miss Lucy, which sold 80,000 copies. She also did all the illustrations for the book.
While she was still a teenager, her tennis skills sometimes enabled her to peer across the net at some famous faces. At 15, she was visiting her uncle who was helping to put together a celebrity tennis tournament in Fort Lauderdale. "Someone who had paid big bucks to hobnob had to cancel, so I got to play," says Kahan. "Let's see. I played with Johnny Carson, Arthur Ashe—Rod Laver was there, too. It was pretty neat."
Skidmore College, in Saratoga, N.Y., offered Kahan a partial tennis scholarship, contingent on her majoring in physical education. "I could just see all my high school coaches lined up," Kahan says. "And I thought, No way." She opted to major in fashion design and photography at Bennett, a now-defunct two-year women's college, in Millbrook, N.Y., where she played on the school's tennis team. Kahan's competitive tennis career came to an end there but she did not close her celebrity register.