BY SISSY WICKES
Without horse shows and the bustling season, Sissy Wickes joins a group of equestrians in Florida for cycling. Every day, safely six feet apart, they chat about the state of things and dealing with our current times. You can read Day One, Two and Three to catch up.
We were able to play tennis past the first wave of shutdowns. The state and county parks in Florida remained open, including the town’s tennis center. Mindful of physical distancing, four of us who had bonded through tennis met to play daily. We limited our exposure to courts and tennis balls, weighing the joy of the game against the risk of illness. Joy usually wins. Too soon, the tennis center succumbed to stricter levels of public closure and our happy group reluctantly disbanded, but not before driving through neighborhoods sleuthing out courts that were unguarded. Yes, we were desperate and unscrupulous. Thwarted, we gave up and waved goodbye to our game with promises of restarting once the shutdown ended.
John is one hell of a doubles player. A lithe 6’6”, he has legs as long as my body and the reach of a condor. He never seemed to move much off of the baseline, but he returned many more of my shots than he missed. I never asked how old he is, but my guess is that he is teetering in his sixties. Our conversation was cursory- where are you from? How many kids do you have? What is your profession? How did you end up in Wellington? I love hearing people’s stories and listened with interest without delving too far into the narrative. I was busy with my backhand.
Today, we met for a bike ride. The fab four reunited for an hour of cycling after John texted, “Can we go for a ride sometime? Will buy you an ice cream cone if we can find a place that’s open.” Food? Exercise? We are in. Like the masses of old people that walk the length of malls in the morning, we biked laps around the deserted mall road. I pedaled alongside John and we fell into easy conversation. In spite of a relentless headwind, he sat tall and lean on the bike, his legs circling smoothly. I leaned forward and shifted to a lower gear, now pedaling at twice his speed to keep up. It must have looked like he was filmed in slow motion while I was fast forwarded.
“So, how long are you staying in Wellington?” I puff, craning my neck up to see him.
“Well, we are not sure,” he says, gazing ahead. “We don’t know how we can go north right now with my wife’s situation and all.” I took a breath and asked the next question, knowing the answer would be heavier than the wind I pedaled into.
John’s wife of four decades is a double breast cancer survivor. Her first bout was eight years ago, and the latest was three years ago. Cancer free now, she is in the highest risk category for severe COVID illness.
“She is doing ok right now,” John said evenly. “But the treatment, that really took everything out of her. I am just so happy that she can still go out to ride her horse. It gets her out of the house and away from the worry. Then, she comes back and sleeps in the afternoon.”
John and Carol have been coming to Wellington for the winters since they retired a decade ago. Carol chose Wellington because she is a dressage rider and Wellington is ripe with the best dressage trainers and all levels of competitions. Their usual migration from Massachusetts to Wellington ranges from early December to early April. They have a favorite rustic inn in Virginia that serves as their stopover on the twenty one hour drive.
“Well, flights are out of the question, we can’t make the drive in one trip, and we can’t spend the night anywhere. So, here we are!” he says looking down at me. “We will have to see how it plays out for us. In the meantime, I hope she can keep riding and I can keep cycling. And I pray we don’t get sick.”
Restless, angry, inconvenienced, bored, scared- we are all of it. The safe landscape of our day is lost and we try to find a new equilibrium. No wonder we are skewed and bent right now. But, as we lower our heads into the wind of self- pity, can we feel the lip chain of reality as it stings with stories like John and Carol’s? Hopeful, generous, patient, inclusive, kind- we can be all of it.
The strategy of doubles tennis is about playing to each other’s strengths and covering for weaknesses. You take the base line and I’ll get the net until we switch and the roles reverse. It is the orchestrated foxtrot of covering the court as a team, moving in sync, relying on each other to keep the ball moving forward. It’s a team sport in a long game.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Cohost of The Plaidcast. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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