Catherine Dickinson redeemed by this year’s Silver after last year’s injury
BY VOICE STAFF
Ridgeville’s Catherine Dickinson, the champion racquetballer who was forced to withdraw from last year’s world championships, made a triumphant return to the tournament in Albuquerque, New Mexico, earlier this month. Coming off a broken foot at last year’s event, Dickinson finished second in the 55-plus category, winning four of her five matches and missing out on the gold medal by just two points.
While disappointed that she had missed the title (“I should’ve won,” she says), Dickinson, who at 55 just qualified for her category, is these days happy to be able to compete.
Though she played on the pro circuit in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 1987 Pan-American racquetball championships, in the late ‘90s she had worn down her knee so severely that doctors told her to stop playing.
Dickinson did, for seven years. She is a retired nurse, after all, and knows the importance of valuing medical opinions. But in 2004 she got back into the sport, and has been playing ever since.
Along with her coach and husband, LaVerne, she has developed a style of play designed to keep points as short as possible.
“I can’t bend very well,” she said. “I have to send my racquet down to get the balls.” Catherine credits her big serve for much of her success. LaVerne concurs.
“Most of the women she plays don’t even have time to react,” he said, “and if they do return, it’s very weak and Catherine can end the point right away.”
Even though Catherine tries to play with a style that is easy on her body, she admits that sometimes she gets caught up in the point.
“I’ll be running around for a point, and chase after the ball all over. When I was younger, I used to dive for it. It has to be the adrenaline,” she said.
Catherine first met LaVerne in the early 1980s, when she was playing on the competitive circuit. He was a high-school math teacher at the time, living in Rochester, and spotted Catherine at events. He thought that she had great potential as a player, and helped her to find sponsors in the United States, since they were easier to find than in Canada.
The two remained in contact, and in 2006, they were married. The next year, they moved to Ridgeville. LaVerne was a competitive racquetballer too, though he attended university on football scholarships at both Wyoming and later Southern University, in Lousiana. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1972, though was cut before the season began. Injuries have caught up to LaVerne, too. He can no longer play racquetball with Catherine, though he does help her practise by standing in the court and trying to return her serve.
Most of Catherine’s practise is alone. “I can’t find anyone to play anymore,” she says.
Previously, there was a group of locals with whom she played, but now she largely trains without any opponents at YMCAs in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland. After playing competitive tennis in high school, Catherine took up racquetball with her brother. In those days, she says, there were a lot of people playing the sport. Ever since, she has seen interest in it diminish.
“The kids aren’t playing it anymore. They want to play the sports that are on TV,” she said.
Racquetball is particularly unsuited to television. The ball moves quickly, and unless the court is constructed entirely of glass, there is little room for spectators. While the ball moves quickly in tennis, too, it is at least bigger and the court is more spacious, meaning that it is easier to follow the action. Last week’s US Open finals in New York were played in a stadium with some 20,000 people in attendance.
Though Dickinson is fiercely competitive, she returned to the training gym just a month and a half before the World Championships.
“There’s just so much to do here,” she said, gesturing to her impeccably-maintained garden, before hurrying off to the barn to ensure that the feral cats had food and water. “We have four cats and a dog in the house, too,” LaVerne added.
The two have a trip to Vermont planned, where they will cycle and enjoy the fall colours, and later in autumn Catherine will return to training for a January event in Tucson, Arizona. “It isn’t a very big event,” she says quickly. But when she says this, it is clear from both her tone and expression that this won’t matter once she arrives. She won’t be playing for second.