Carter Karels - 31 May 2018
When senior tennis standout Margaret Canby’s husband died last summer, she took a hiatus from the sport she loved.
The top-ranked San Antonio native could not compete in a national grass court tennis tournament in Philadelphia. Dr. John Canby’s death — after a long battle with dementia — brought their 63-year marriage to an end.
The Canbys had lived all around the world, including India, Australia, Thailand and Germany.
But tennis supplied Canby, 85, with a vehicle for overcoming loneliness.
“I found out that the quickest way to make friends was to go to the local tennis place and say, ‘I’m a tennis player. Is there a league I can play in? Is there a group?’” Canby said.
Diving back into tennis helped Canby move on. And she does not intend to hang-up her racquet anytime soon.
Canby even aspires for death-by-tennis.
“My goodness gracious, I hope the Lord blesses me — I would like to throw the ball and hit an absolute ace, then fall flat on myself,” Canby said. “It would be such a blessing.”
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) recognized Canby as No. 1 in the nation for 85 women’s singles, individual doubles and team doubles for 2017. She garnered the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) top spot for individual doubles as well.
And she did so without competing in one of the four national tournaments.
“I was astonished when I saw it,” Canby said. “I did not realize that we had that many points.”
Gold, silver and bronze balls are awarded to the national tournament winners. Canby has amassed 20, 19 and 13, respectively. She’s also represented the United States’ senior teams in Australia, Croatia, Austria and Turkey.
Some of Canby’s most impressive accomplishments have come off the court. She long ago immersed herself locally, volunteering to teach children the sport and officiate matches.
Canby began volunteering for San Antonio’s Senior Games in the late 1990s. Cathy Pottorf, director of the event, allowed Canby to run the show.
“The athletes love her. She hugs and kisses them,” Pottorf said. “She lets people stay at her house. She goes way beyond the call of duty.”
While she did not play for Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Canby’s alma mater inducted her into their Javelina Hall of Fame in 2012. Canby was inducted into the Texas Senior Games Hall of Fame the following year.
Canby was one of four people named into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I think it’s more about what I gave back to tennis,” she said of the honors. “Not my playing ability.”
But Canby believes she can offer more. The United States instituted a men’s 85 team last year. No such group exists for the women, preventing 85-year-old females like Canby from representing the country.
“They keep saying that tennis is a sport for a lifetime, but I think they have forgotten us older women,” Canby said.
Organizing an American team would not be enough. Since other countries must provide competition, Canby continually reaches out to foreign players about forming squads.
Canby also badgers the USTA and ITF through email. She hopes the ITF will discuss the prospect when its senior committee meets June 1 in Paris.
“She’s doing everything she can to make that happen,” said Mary Ann Winden, Canby’s friend and fellow senior player. “And it looks like it is going to work. Margaret spearheaded that.”
Before last summer, Canby had a loaded schedule. She attended to her husband on a daily basis as he spent his final months in assistant living. His death left a void, but it allowed her to fully embrace her passion.
“I think tennis helped her accept him not being in her life,” said Angie Ray, her doubles partner.
The San Antonio Tennis Association (SATA) honored Canby last week. SATA, which Canby once served as president, presented her with a plaque that read: “For your continued success and dedication to growing tennis in San Antonio and beyond.”
“We are not doing this for you,” Canby recalls SATA’s representatives telling her. “We are doing this because you are an inspiration for all these younger women. They can stay playing tennis as long as you have if they stay fit and at it.”
Even if that means them witnessing death-by-tennis.
“Margaret will play tennis until she dies,” Winden said. “She will. I cannot ever see her (quitting) unless she is physically unable.”
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Photo: Jerry Lara - Staff Photographer - SA Express News
Margaret Canby, 85, is the top-ranked player in her age division in the country.