Photo by Matthew Claybrook
Gretchen Rush returns this year for her sixth season as head coach of the Trinity women’s tennis team after four years as an All-American player at Trinity in the 1980s. Rush has had a standout career both as a player and coach, and she looks back on some of her favorite moments on the court in the second edition of “Coach’s Corner.”
As a player, you participated in many huge events including the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the 1983 PanAmerican Games in Caracas, Venezuela and Grand Slam tournaments. Can you point to a favorite moment in your playing career?
I got to play Wimbledon 20 times, I mean, who gets to play Wimbledon 20 times? Nobody. There’s highs and lows with any sport. I’ve been amazingly blessed that I was fairly injury free for almost my entire playing career. As you get older you get aches and pains, but you get these highlights: my Trinity career, winning doubles with my friend Louise Allen, we won the NCAAs. As a team we beat Stanford, you know they were always this elite school and we were a little school in Texas. Just winning with my team, hanging out with my team, beating UT (University of Texas) in front of a home crowd. Getting to be in the Olympics was incredible. I wasn’t actually playing, but being involved in the opening ceremonies was just a surreal moment. Winning Wimbledon, even though it was the seniors, we got our trophy from the Duke of somebody on center court.
Things happened to me that, as a little girl in Pittsburgh playing tennis, you just wouldn’t think happen. Looking back, it’s almost like my dreams were too small. I never really realized it would take me all over the world, and you know, go to Russia when [Mikhail] Gorbachev came in and Perestroika was happening. We went to South Africa when Apartheid was just happening and [Nelson] Mandela was in prison. We went back after he was president. All these crazy things we got to do, it is amazing.
How does the fact that you played at Trinity give you a unique perspective now as a coach for the Tigers?
I feel like I have gotten a do-over on my life. I had a wonderful experience at Trinity, and now I am here 30-something years later. Some mornings I wake up and I am walking and I go, ‘there is the tower, there is the fountain,’” and it is kind of strange. I love what I do. I get to be on the court with the girls, which is my favorite thing, … and give them wonderful opportunities to grow and see who they are and what they are made of. Some days are better than others of course. I love Trinity. I was looking at Stanford, Trinity and UCLA [as a player], and I picked Trinity, and I feel the same way now. I feel like I’ve got the best job in America. It was a pretty easy decision to come to Trinity.
Now that you’re back here, do you have a proudest moment as a coach?
I’ve been here long enough, going on my sixth year, to watch as [players] come in as freshmen, and they’re shy and nervous and then they leave as champions in their own right. We’ve been conference champions every time and, even though we keep losing at the second round of Nationals, they carry their heads, nobody cries, they smile for the picture and they’re proud. They’re proud of the work they’ve done and that’s something I respect in them.
If you could face any current tennis player, not caring about winning or losing, who would you want to go against?
I don’t want to play any of them. They’re like twice as tall as me and way stronger, and they work out a lot more than I do. I would really enjoy, I mean she’s done now, but I respect the way Martina Hingis plays. I think she’s this incredibly talented player. I love how imaginative she is on the court. I don’t watch as much tennis as I used to, but I think [Simona] Halep plays with sort of that same creativity. As far as playing Serena [Williams], I have no interest in playing her. I walked by her when I was playing Senior Wimbledon, and she just scared the crap out of me. They just play a whole different game. I didn’t learn that game.
What three people, past or present, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I love to read, so I would probably invite Nora Ephron — I just love the way she writes — Anna Quindlen and how about, to mix it up, we’ll get Billie Jean King. We’ll put Billie in there to shake things up. We would laugh a lot.
What would you eat at the dinner?
We would eat a big salad because that’s what you’re supposed to eat when you’re middle aged,
and there would definitely be wine and probably some artichokes. There would be salmon. I’m trying to eat what I’m supposed to eat because as you get older you just have to do that.
Say you are stranded on an island and could only pick one person to be with you. Who do you choose and why?
My dog, Romey. He’s not a person, [but] that’s all I’ve got right now. I have three kids, so I can’t bring all of them. I can’t win in that question.
If you could tell the world one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m not done yet. I’m still growing up. I’m trying to grow up [and] I’ve got more to do.