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Tennis Pro’s Plan: Have Baby <i> and</i> Win : ‘I’ll Feel That I’ve Done Something Really Big,’ Kim Shaefer Says

Times Staff Writer

Kim Shaefer remembers a day in Dallas when she was playing Martina Navratilova. She looked at the scoreboard and saw, “Shaefer 4, Navratilova 0.”

She claims that until the moment her eye glanced away, she had hardly paid attention to the name of her blonde opponent. When she saw the names, especially the capital “N” that usually sends shivers of doom down opponents’ spines, she was shocked.

But the score--that had her almost gasping for breath.

Shaefer proceeded to lose, in the way that most opponents lose to Navratilova--by wearing down, crumbling, believing, “No matter how well I’m playing now, I can’t possibly beat her. She’s . . . Martina Navratilova.”

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Shaefer is, however, not one to run from a challenge. Later this year, she’ll suddenly be taking on her biggest in six years as a professional on the women’s tennis tour.

Of course, she’s doing it all for love, though hoping to score more than love in the course of a season’s matches. She’s hoping for a lot more than netters’ survival. She’s hoping for some “big W’s,” as those in the jock world sometimes call them.

Shaefer, 28, is four months pregnant and getting bigger.

The baby--her first--is due in June.

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She’s planning to breast-feed. And to travel, like a maniac on a frequent flier program.

A lot of people probably think she’s crazy, of which she’s well aware. She doesn’t care. In fact, she’s almost cavalier.

If she succeeds, somehow pulls it off, amid midnight wailing, 3 a.m. feedings and a pail of dirty diapers, still keeps her sanity, still occasionally wins--maybe even against Martina!-- wow . . . “I’ll feel that I’ve done something really big.” She says it as though ready to climb Olympus.

She’s feeling big. Still, she’s continuing to serve, volley and backhand as though Wimbledon were tomorrow.

“Before, in the women’s tennis world, women would get married, have a baby and quit,” said Shaefer, resting up in the living room of her parents’ condo in Point Loma. Shaefer learned to play at Morley Field in Balboa Park. She went to San Diego State University for two years. She now lives in Washington but has strong local ties. Her parents live right across the street from the Point Loma Tennis Club.

“Women in the work force are able to do it,” Shaefer said, “so I don’t see why I can’t accomplish the same thing.”

Other women have taken babies on tour, but none have played while living through the throes of child-bearing. Evonne Goolagong Cawley took a baby on the road, but had a support group of husband, brother and nanny. Shaefer will have no such group. Her husband will remain in Washington, offering support, mostly through a telephone line.

“Two weeks after the birth, I’ll be back on the court again,” she said with hardened determination. “Six weeks later I’m hoping to be in shape, and competitive on a major level. I’ll do two tournaments, then the U.S. Open at the end of August.”

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She laughed, suddenly seeming to realize the gravity of what she was saying. Maybe she had glimpsed the scoreboard again.

Pregnancy 4, Shaefer love.

“We’ll see how it goes after that,” she said.

Howard Hunt is chairman of the department of physical education at the University of California at San Diego. Hunt works with scores of pregnant women and has found that attitudes and methods are changing radically. What Shaefer is doing is hardly alarming, he said.

“Women who exercise regularly have an easier time of delivery and recover quicker,” Hunt said. “Women who are physically inactive often find pregnancy destructive to the system. Carrying a baby decelerates physical fitness even more. All the more reason for (Shaefer) to follow through on a practiced routine.”

Hunt, who does not know Shaefer, has no problem with the timetable. He saw no reason for why she can’t be doing regular exercise “until the moment the water breaks.” However, that doesn’t mean competition, especially against the likes of Navratilova.

“Even if you had a chance to beat someone like her, that wouldn’t be the time to try it,” he said.

The only reason Shaefer should delay competition--and she will, with the completion of tournaments in the coming weeks--has more to do with awkwardness, Hunt said, and an obvious burden of being so much bigger.

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Barring unforeseen problems, regular exercise--stroking the ball, working on timing and serves--could resume three to four days after birth, Hunt said.

Biggest woe? Fatigue.

“If she’s too fatigued, at any point along the way, she’ll have to ease off,” he said. “Her level of skill won’t be tops, but there’s no reason to think she can’t pull it off.”

In addition to patience and caution, Hunt recommended support and encouragement from friends as being about the best medicine anyone could have.

For the most part, colleagues have been supportive, especially Terry Holladay, a fellow pro from San Diego. Holladay plays the Virginia Slims World Championship Series with baby in tow.

Others, understandably those without kids, have warned Shaefer that a screaming baby, maybe even a silent one, won’t be welcome in the locker room.

She’s bothered by the warning, but she understands. Courtesies prohibit coaches, friends and reporters in the locker room, which many pros regard as a place of sanctuary. “The locker room problem” is just one example of the kinds of conflicts a tennis-playing mamma has to face.

A gregarious woman with an easy smile and quick wit, Shaefer is hardly the worrying kind. She isn’t crying doom, though friends and acquaintances sometimes are. “Don’t you know how hard it will be,” some seem to be saying. “Yes, but,” Shaefer finds herself saying, only to realize that parenting for most is an individual adventure.

She does plan adjustments. She’s balking at international travel, though hours and miles of domestic flights are fast approaching. She’s lining up friends in cities around the country to help out with everything from baby-sitting to hand-holding.

“Wait and see” will be the attitude all along. If life gets sorely complicated, like being too often on the down side of 6-love, she’ll pull back, reconsider. Maybe even give it up, there being a difference between giving it up and giving up.

She wants both a wonderful baby and a U.S. Open title. She wants to leapfrog from a current 58th ranking to 24 (her former spot) and, if possible, way beyond--maybe even to capital “N” territory. She wants a deja vu treatment of her 1983 experience--winning the U.S. indoor title. She wants to run a mile a day, and play once a day, until the baby is healthy and happy and ready to move with the pace of a Wimbledon volley.

Baby’s on-the-go life style will be led by a mother’s incentive, a challenge she finds irresistible, inescapable.

“This has given me a perspective on things--on life,” she said. “I feel more refreshed. I have a tendency to take myself too seriously. This is making me relax. I’m taking it as a fun experiment.”

In the first two months, Shaefer gained maybe a dozen pounds. She has occasional morning sickness but mostly feels great. She’s reading everything “I can get my hands on,” though for this book--Having a Baby on the Women’s Tennis Tour--she’s writing the early chapters. In one corner of the women’s gallery, Virginia doesn’t seem so Slim.

Shaefer 6, Skepticism love.


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