Last week Diana Nyad was at it again. The open-water swimmer got enormous attention for attempting to swim from Cuba to Florida. She failed about halfway, after swimming for twenty-nine hours. Nyad will be sixty-two on Monday. Staying awake for twenty-nine hours would be a challenge at that age, let alone swimming thse so-called shark-infested waters.
She had some famous swims in the seventies (she swam around Manhattan in under eight hours in 1975 and set a record for non-stop swimming without a wetsuit, one hundred and two miles from Florida to the Bahamas in 1979, that lasted for twenty years).
Nyad played on the women’s pro hardball tour in the seventies as well. In 1976 she famously opened the Manhattan Squash Club in the Grace Building with an exhibition match against George Plimpton. She was a fierce player (broke a rib once) and I ended a chapter in my squash book with a lovely quotation from her in 1978: “It is a game of aggression and intimidation. And women need to learn that they can go out and push somebody out of their way and hit the fuckin’ ball.”
Hosting a major international tournament always attracts the odd legend from the past. For a long time, it looked like the one great player on hand at the world juniors in Allston, Mass. was Vicki Cardwell. The coach for Australia, Cardwell won four British Opens and one World Open in the eighties.
And then one afternoon the doors blew open, literally, and in walked my old friend, mentor and step-sister Aggie Kurtz. Ag of course was there at the start of quite a lot of U.S. women’s squash history (the founding of the women intercollegiate singles and then teams; founding Dartmouth women’s squash; and playing on the last Wolfe-Noel squad and the first U.S. women’s professional tournament, the Bancroft Open in 1977).
In tow with Aggie was another legend, someone she was dropping off at the tournament after hosting in Hanover. She introduced herself as Sue King. Didn’t ring any bells. After a few minutes of chatting, it was clear this was a former British Open winner. I said, hesitatingly, “What was your maiden name?”
Ah, that explained it. Sue got to the finals of the Bancroft Open, that inaugural pro event. And she’s the answer to the trivia question about who won the first British Open after Heather McKay retired. A feisty Aussie, Sue told me about her first club. I said, “Oh, the usual, right, two courts and a bar?” And she said, well, sort of: two courts that her father, a car mechanic, built above his garage.
Not too many British Open champions can claim that for their first courts.
Some good coverage of the world juniors:
Only a Game, the weekly radio show, had me in 2003 when I was in to talk about my book about squash. Host Bill Littlefield had dated Vic Niederhoffer’s sister and had some questions about the notorious champion. Now they are back and talking Egyptian:
Bloomberg checked in about the bounce a college program gets from hosting a world championship.