Happenstance leads Zimmerman to her love for racquetball
Fifteen years ago, Bernadette Zimmerman delved into a sport she would grow to love. It didn’t take long for her to decide it was the sport for her. And it was all on a whim as she was searching for something to do indoors and keep her in shape.
“I discovered racquetball at a local recreation center in early 2002,” Zimmerman said. “[I was] looking for an indoor, year-round activity/hobby. There was a group of adults playing doubles who were kind enough to give me some helpful tips. From there, I was hooked immediately.
“By May of the same year, I signed up for my first shootout at the Maverick Athletic Club in Arlington, Texas. The first of many Triple Crown Shootouts I would play in.”
She has been a staple at the Maverick for many years.
“Bernadette started playing shootouts here at the Maverick back in 2002 and quickly became a regular face in the racquetball community,” said Leo Vasquez, who is the program director at the Maverick and also serves as executive vice president for USA Racquetball. “She has a great personality and began to help organize events for women, new and current players, around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I recruited her to help me as part of the tournament desk for several years at the Maverick. She would volunteer her time helping and also played singles and doubles. In fact, Bernadette and her doubles partner, Eddie Vann, went on an impressive win streak at the Maverick in the mixed doubles. They were definitely the team to beat around here for many tournaments.”
Julienne Arnold, who befriended Zimmerman six or seven years ago, said she would not be the player she is today without Zimmerman’s guidance.
“I met Bernadette at the L.A. Fitness in Carrollton where she ran the league,” Arnold said. “Back then, I was just a recreational player with a tennis grip, horrible ceiling ball and oblivious to what a Z-shot was. I didn’t feel skilled enough to play in her league, but she tossed me on the court like tossing a kid into a swimming pool to learn how to swim. Like most new players in her league, she gave encouragement and lessons to improve their game.
“Personally, I would not be the player I am today without her as a mentor. When I question how far can I go or should go at my age, her response is always something like, ‘Why not? Dream big. Go for it.’
“Her contributions and influence sometimes goes unnoticed or unrecognized, which is often the case with those who work hard at the grassroots level.”
Zimmerman said the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life drew her to the sport, in addition to enjoying the workout and competitiveness racquetball brings. She said some of her racquetball heroes are Sandy Long, Anita King and Keely Franks Kennedy.
“Bernadette is driven to excel,” said Long, who is instrumental in coordinating the Texas junior racquetball program as well as coaching and teaching. “She is a competitor with strong sense of sportsmanship and integrity. She is also kind and selfless, especially with junior racquetball. She has volunteered to help with juniors practices whenever she could. She has been there for me when I called for a rescue. There was an event in San Antonio with several of our juniors playing in two different locations. She drove from her home in DFW to San Antonio just to help us out with the logistics of getting kids to their matches.”
Narrowing down a single memorable moment in racquetball isn’t possible, Zimmerman said.
“I have many great memories to choose from and that’s what has kept me coming back for more.”
She said among her favorite tournaments and venues to play are the annual U.S. OPEN and national singles, as well as Texas’ largest tournament, the Longhorn Open in Austin. She also enjoys traveling to Tornado Alley in Wichita Falls, one of the longest running tournaments in the nation, as well as the LPRT Battle of the Alamo tournament in San Antonio, which also serves as a regional site each year in April.
Continued growth is always a priority for any sport, especially for women, but particularly racquetball and its many enthusiasts, Zimmerman said.
“I think the persons and organizations currently in the field are doing a great job of keeping the racquetball community engaged and growing,” she said. “I think the [Texas Racquetball Association] has been doing a great job of increasing the participation level of women in racquetball.”
Both Arnold, who is a TXRA board member, and Vasquez credit Zimmerman for her efforts in helping more women become involved in the sport.
“Not only has Bernadette influenced others by running leagues, but over the years she’s put together Ladies Day events in DFW, bringing over 20-plus players together on a Saturday to play and socialize,” Arnold said. “Finding other women to play is not easy. With Bernadette’s network of friends from many years of playing, she easily brings women together. Some out of retirement. Some even come from out of town just to play with other women. She makes that happen because of her dedication and love for the sport.”
Vasquez reiterated that point.
“Racquetball needs more players like Bernadette who make the time and commitment to give back to the sport in some way, through volunteering and organizing events or social mixers for men and women,” he said. “She’s been a great ambassador for women’s racquetball with her dedication and pro-active approach to getting more women to play.”
Zimmerman plays and teaches racquetball with a passion. And she expects nothing less from those she’s associated with. She's also been a big recruiter for the sport, especially for women.
"'Girl power' is my favorite Bernadette quote,” said Cheryl McFadden, one of several women who Zimmerman has drawn to the sport. “And it's great fun trying to discover other players' real names after she introduces people by her nickname for them. I met Bernadette four weeks into playing racquetball. She encouraged me to try my first tourney at six weeks. Then to buy a real racquetball bag. Then to get court shoes and proper game attire. She was the encouragement that made this game a challenge rather than a hobby. Her encouragement helped me develop a love for this sport. And it is now my intent to play until I'm too old to move.”
Some players are willing to make a long trek to seek out Zimmerman's advice and to help support her cause in growing the sport.
“[Bernadette is] a true professional whose passion and dedication to racquetball developed the Carrollton L.A. Fitness racquetball league into one of the most popular leagues in the Dallas Metroplex,” said league participant Johnny Boyd, who travels from Greenville to participate in Zimmerman's leagues.
Zimmerman recently made a new career move, which will decrease her time on the court.
“I started running leagues for L.A. Fitness in spring 2009,” Zimmerman said. “I started and ended at the Carrollton location but have organized leagues and trained coordinators at three other facilities — George Bush South, Webb Chapel and the Haskell locations over the years. I've recently decided to jump career tracks and returned to school to study data analytics/programming. That's the main reason I have stepped away from running leagues.”
Despite Zimmerman stepping away from running the leagues, Arnold said she knows she can always reach out for Zimmerman's advice and support.
“All that she asks in return is that I give back to the sport,” Arnold said. “We all should.”
Atricle written by TXRA Board Member Dale Gosser.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org