Althea Gibson: A True Champion On The Court and Beyond
“The loser is always a part of the problem; the winner is always a part of the answer. The loser always has an excuse; the winner always has a program. The loser says it may be possible, but it’s difficult; the winner says it may be difficult, but it’s possible.” —Althea Gibson, 1991
Althea Gibson was a pioneer and game-changer for women’s sports in the areas of Tennis and Golf. Long before the world knew of the Awesome Arthur Ashe, the Zesty Zina Garrison or the Winning Williams sisters,Venus and Serena, there was Althea Gibson who paved the way for those who would stand on her shoulders.
In the late 1950’s Althea Gibson broke barriers In 1956 she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title (the French Open). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open), then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althea_Gibson
Born into poverty in the state of South Carolina, Gibson’s parents relocated to New York to make a better life for their family. In her neighborhood Althea took up table tennis and became a champion. Althea Gibson found her comfort on the court with a tennis racket in after two doctors, Walter Johnson and Hubert A. Eaton[discovered that she had that special something that would take her to the next level in the game of tennis. The talent that Althea Gibson had did not come without a cost and a high sacrifice. The game of tennis and world were still segregated in the 1950’s, Althea Gibson could not always gain access to play in tournaments because people who were not white were not welcome. Even as Althea Gibson was winning tennis matches she had to enter the facilities through back doors and would not be treated equally as other players.
From 1956 until 1958, Althea Gibson became a champion on the tennis court and a woman who set records that were not broken for many years to come. Playing during a time when there were not multi-million dollar endorsements, Althea Gibson became a professional tennis player in 1959 but that did not prove to be lucrative and earned her meager amounts of money. The lack of funding and access turned Althea Gibson to a career in the entertainment field where she worked as a singer and musician as well as doing some acting.
In the mid 1960’s Althea Gibson set another record as the first black women on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. A contender who was a top 50 money earner in the LPGA Althea Gibson, again was met with discrimination and little recognition and compensation for her accomplishments.
Althea Gibson retired from the game of golf in 1978 and for the next two decades she worked to bring recognition of the game of tennis in underprivileged areas. After a long career of being a champion and game-changer, Althea Gibson suffered a cerebral hemorrhage as well as a stroke. Her declining medical condition depleted most of her funds and Althea Gibson struggled to live, leaving her unable to afford her rent or medication. Though she reached out to multiple tennis organizations requesting help, none responded. Former doubles partner Angela Buxton made Gibson’s plight known to the tennis community, and raised nearly $1 million in donations from around the world. In 2003 , Althea Gibson died from respiratory issues, she was 76 years old. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althea_Gibson
A True Champion on the court and to all those who aspire to greatness in their passionate pursuit in the game of sports and life, Althea Gibson set the bar. The legacy she left is her footprint of grace, style, talent, perseverance and a belief that you can be who and whatever you set your heart and mind to be in this world. Thanks Althea Gibson for showing the way and leaving a lasting legacy.
Mind, Body, Spirit”
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