Tennis guru Bud Collins sent Sally Ride into space

This undated photo released by NASA shows astronaut This undated photo released by NASA shows astronaut Sally Ride. Ride, the first American woman in space, died July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. Photo Credit: AP

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One of the more interesting annotations to the accomplished life of astronaut Sally Ride, who died of pancreatic cancer at 61 on Monday, is the Facebook posting by Bud Collins recalling his doubles tennis "victory" over Ride and her partner more than 30 years ago.

"I had no idea," Collins wrote in his typically sly manner, "that this would soon launch Sally into space."

Collins, of course, is the 83-year-old tennis guru who possibly has been part of more historical footnotes than any practitioner of sports journalism. He has partied with and played against some of the biggest names in tennis and, during a time as coach at Brandeis University, had proverbial bomb thrower Abbie Hoffman as one of his players. He also briefly declared himself a candidate for mayor of Boston.

It was somewhere in the 1970s that Collins was covering a tournament in Palm Springs and Ride, mulling a pro tennis career, was looking for practice opposition for herself and doubles partner Tam O'Shaughnessy.

"They were desperate," wrote Collins, who therefore volunteered himself -- he was a good enough player to have been national indoor mixed doubles champion in 1961 -- and Washington Post tennis writer Barry Lorge.

"Strangely," Collins wrote, "they got nervous, even though we were a couple of hacks . . . somehow they fumbled it away and we won." Whereupon Ride "laughed and said, 'Don't tell anybody, please,'" Collins wrote.

No less than Billie Jean King had urged Ride to try professional tennis. In a 2006 interview with the Academy of Achievement Web site, Ride acknowledged that she had been "a good tennis player," taking up the game at 11 and branching out from tournaments near her Southern California home to national events.

It was "to the dismay of my parents" that, a year and a half into her studies at Swarthmore College, Ride said she decided, "What was I thinking? I should have been a professional tennis player." She quit school, returned to California and spent several months "focused on tennis . . . before I saw the light and transferred to Stanford."

There, she continued to compete while studying physics and English, but soon took the path that led to her becoming the first American woman in space. O'Shaughnessy eventually became Ride's life partner of 27 years, and the COO and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science education company, dedicated to supporting boys' and girls' interest in science.

It was "a long, hard look at my forehand," Ride told the Academy of Achievement, that caused her to realize "that I was not going to make a fortune with that forehand."

Gravity prevailed.

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