Nichols-Dickinson continues to marvel in comeback from injury
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Catherine Nichols-Dickinson has her championship.
Two years after almost winning her division at the World Senior Racquetball Championships, the Ridgeville resident returned to Albuquerque, NM this month and wrapped up unfinished business, running the table and taking home the title in 55-plus category at the annual event, with a dominating performance.
“I really still can’t register this year, I played 21 games [total], six games a day, and nobody beat me,” Nichols-Dickinson told the Voice last week. “Unreal. It’s like, six games a day is a lot. They don’t even play that in the women’s pros.”
One racquetball match consists of three games. In the end, she finished a division-best 7-0, but it was the scores of the individual games that raised eyebrows. She won six by a perfect 11-0 score, defeating Texan Susan Ivanhoe 11-0, 11-3, 11-0 in her round-robin final.
“Some of the scores,” the 57-year-old Nichols-Dickinson said, “I’m still trying to register it.”
You can forgive her incredulity. While she finished second at the same event in 2017, her journey is dramatic considering that the previous year a severe foot injury knocked her out of the tournament. That was serious enough, before considering some of the other physical joys of being an active athlete in one’s later years.
“The left knee is a partial replacement and the right knee is severe osteo,” she said.
Last year, she skipped the tournament as she tended to her ailing cat.
Yet amidst dealing with her injuries and the loss of a beloved pet, she and her husband—former NFL draft pick LaVerne Dickinson, who now coaches her — devised a training strategy that would play to her strengths.
Racquetball often requires running and hard cutting – unless you can avoid it by catching opponents off-guard with tracer-like serves.
“I perfected my serves, and they really are bullets. It minimizes running,” she said. “[In one match] I served six bullets serves and got six aces, [my opponent] wasn’t able to get near them … it sounds corny, but I think it’s miraculous really.”
Miracles aren’t easy, however.
“I went back to the hotel every night and I had to ice my knees, they were blowing up like balloons,” she said.
Making the story all the more impressive is Nichols-Dickinson’s claim that she didn’t actually play an opponent in racquetball in the two years leading up to this summer’s tournament.
“I play at the [St. Catharines YMCA], but nobody else plays racquetball there,” she said. The lack of competition caused her to take up squash. While the sports look similar, there are differences—mainly that squash uses a larger racket and a smaller ball.
“The women couldn’t figure where the hell I came from,” she said. “I ended up in tier-1 in two months playing at White Oaks.”
Racquetball remains her first love, however. Nichols-Dickinson represented Canada at the 1987 Pan American Championships and once played on the women’s professional tour.
At age 57 it may sound bold, but she says she wants to go pro again.
“I’m going to try and play some of the women’s pro stops,” she said.
Husband LaVerne won’t rule out her chances.
“As a human being I’ve never seen anyone with as much determination,” he said.