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Saturday, Aug 30, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Former tennis player’s life linked to Tampa

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There was that summer in Paris when the tennis world belonged to Andrea Jaeger. Still a teenager, she had defeated Chris Evert and was ranked No. 2 in the world.

But, as we all know, the world is a funny place. Things happen.

For Jaeger several of those things happened in Tampa. There were the good things, winning that tournament over Tracy Austin was one. But there were others, including getting rammed by a drunken driver while riding in a car, resulting in serious injuries.

“The pain was so great,’’ she remembers, “I couldn’t stand for more than five or 10 minutes. When we decided to go to Colorado, I had to go lying down all the way.’’

Jaeger is going to be back in town Tuesday to give two talks at the Franciscan Center. The one at 11 a.m. includes lunch but will cost you $30 and you need to call for reservations. She will speak again at 7 p.m. The Franciscan Center, which is on Perry Ave. on the Hillsborough River, might seem an odd spot, but then it is a part of Jaeger’s story of faith. If you haven’t been by, the center is a place for quiet retreats and spiritual renewals.

Jaeger always was going her own way. It’s been more than 30 years now and for her it seems like another life. Out on the tour she was argumentative and far from the most popular player around. Much of the problem was with her father, a common situation with teen players and parents out on the road, where the pressures of money and life are not easily handled.

***

But there was something else. “We weren’t a religious family,’’ she says, “but I always had this feeling that God wanted me to be doing something other than playing tennis.’’

She says what that something was came to here when she was playing at Madison Square Garden and later, sitting in a hotel room, read a story about a child with terminal cancer committing suicide.

Jaeger went over to the hospital. “Helping sick children was something I had been thinking about for years and this suicide was so tragic. One of the mothers of one of the patients recognized me and she was married to a New York Times writer. The next day there was a story. For some reason it didn’t sit well with the tennis managers who thought I should have been practicing and not running around hospitals. They suggested I either stick to tennis or work with sick children.

A few tournaments later I hurt my shoulder and I figured that was God telling me what I needed to do.’’

Eventually Jaeger came to Tampa where she got a job in an office and continued her volunteer work out at Moffitt. “I knew if I was going to run something like a foundation I needed more experience than I was getting on a tennis court.’’

The result ultimately was the Silver Lining Foundation based at a ranch in Colorado near Durango where children with cancer came for a variety of short-term and long-term programs.

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Somewhere in all of that Jaeger decided to join the ranks of an Anglican Dominican Order and become a nun. I told you this was a different person.

“It’s complicated,’’ she says. “I managed to get an associate’s degree in theology. I stayed for a little over three years. Ultimately I left only because they were good and dedicated people and I had to move on with my foundation.

“I really don’t give too many talks these days; I’m not much of a fund-raiser.

“But coming back to Tampa is a little like going full circle. I feel like God has given me a golden ticket and I try to use each day to give something back.’’

sotto@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7809

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