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Annie Boucher is not your average coed. True, she is a senior psychology major at Alfred University in western New York. And, yes, like her classmates, she lives in a dormitory, eats in a dining hall and watches Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation every night after supper.
When you come upon Boucher striding enthusiastically down a tree-lined footpath on the bucolic Alfred campus with a couple of tennis rackets tucked beneath her arm, she does not appear unusual. Of course, you realize that being a black student on Alfred's almost wholly white campus makes her a bit different from most. And you notice, as she steps onto the courts with the other players, that she's the only black on the women's tennis team. But what you don't know is that Boucher is the only athlete at Alfred who is also a 50-year-old grandmother.
Since she began playing tennis at the age of 37, Boucher has led New York City's Queensborough Community College to two undefeated seasons; earned a trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association Nationals; played No. 1 singles and doubles at Alfred for two years; and last May, at 49, was given an award in recognition of her athletic achievements and her involvement in campus activities. These accomplishments become doubly impressive when one realizes the hurdles Boucher has overcome to get to where she is.
When Annie was 17—and a high school dropout—her parents sent her from her home in Jamaica to nursing school in Kingsbury, England. But before she was certified, she became pregnant and moved to London on her own, where she gave birth to her daughter, Sandra. Four years later the two moved to New York City, where Boucher's parents and several of her five siblings were then living.
Boucher raised Sandra as a single parent in Queens while working nine to five as a keypunch operator for Paine Webber, the brokerage firm, in Manhattan. "Basically, I worked and took care of my daughter," says Boucher.
One summer afternoon in 1978, a young woman dressed in tennis clothes passed Boucher on the street. Boucher noticed how healthy and attractive the woman looked, so she asked where she was headed. Upon hearing the answer, Boucher turned around, bounded upstairs to her apartment, rummaged through her closets for a racket she had purchased years earlier for $5 but had never used and headed straight to the neighborhood courts.
The 37-year-old novice had to nag tennis-playing acquaintances to play with her. The only one Boucher didn't badger was Camille Bodden, the best female player in the neighborhood. Boucher had been told that Bodden never hit with other women. "At that moment," says Boucher, "I knew that she was the person I wanted to beat."
Six months later Boucher reached the finals of a neighborhood tournament. Her opponent in the finals was Bodden. Bodden's father called the lines. It was a good thing the match had an umpire, because Boucher didn't know how to keep score. "I was not concentrating on winning; I was concentrating on each point," says Boucher. Before she knew it, Bodden's father was shouting at her, "You won the match already, you don't have to serve anymore."
Over the next several years, Boucher, who's completely self-taught, developed her tennis by practicing as much as she could after work and on weekends and by entering local tournaments. In 1984, Sandra got married, and Boucher began to think about what she had missed in her own life.
Encouraged by some tennis buddies, Boucher contacted an adult-education center in Queens and earned her General Equivalency Diploma in 1986. Afterward, when she went to York College in Queens to pick up an application, the secretary in the admissions office ridiculed Boucher for wanting to go to college at her advanced age. A security guard overheard the conversation and beckoned to Boucher. "Take the 17A bus and go to Queensborough Community College," he said. "They hold your hand a little bit more there."