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Ex-Tennis Star Takes More Than Passing Shot at Politics : Profile: Tracy Worley excelled at doubles, but she’s going it alone at City Hall. The Tustin native says she enjoys the pressure.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tracy Worley is no stranger to pressure.

She thrived in the competitive atmosphere of women’s tennis, becoming a two-time All-American in college and later playing doubles on the grass courts of Wimbledon. Now, as a city councilwoman, Worley knows the political pressure of being the swing vote in sometimes heated debates about Tustin’s future.

And the challenge feels comfortable, she says.

“I am enjoying it, I really am,” said Worley, who joined the council in April. “It’s fun to be able to have a say in your community. It makes all the negatives worth it.”

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At 35, Worley is the youngest council member and the only female, a situation that reminds the Tustin native of her childhood.

“I was the only girl in a family of five contentious brothers,” she said with a laugh, “and I learned to hold my own. So being on the council feels rather normal.”

On certain key issues, such as term limits for elected officials and land-use planning, Worley has cast the deciding vote. She has sided with Mayor Thomas R. Saltarelli and Councilman Jeffery M. Thomas on some occasions, and at other times with Councilmen Jim Potts and Michael J. Doyle.

“I consider myself to be an independent thinker,” Worley said. “I don’t think the council operates best if members line up on teams, so I refuse to form any alliance. You have to compromise, but for the most part you have to do your research and vote your conscience and not worry about how it’s going to turn out, politically, down the road.”

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Worley is the second-youngest offspring of Tustin attorney Robert Wills and novelist Maralys Wills, whom the councilwoman affectionately describes as “two eggheads from Stanford.” Her five brothers all excelled at different sports, she said, including tennis, swimming, motocross and, tragically as it turned out, hang gliding.

Two of her brothers were killed in hang gliding accidents. Eric died in 1974, and Bob was killed filming a television commercial in 1977. The losses seemed to bring the remaining family members closer together.

“I learned from my parents that life does go on,” Worley said. “They were excellent role models. Although we all grieved for my brothers, my parents went on and maintained as normal a family life as they could. They remained optimistic--that’s the key. They didn’t let it ruin their lives.”

Following her parents’ example, Worley got on with her life. She continued to climb in the junior tennis rankings--she was 16th in the nation at one point--and received scholarship offers from colleges throughout the country.

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She decided to attend Cal Poly Pomona, and played on the tennis team all four years. During her junior and senior seasons, 1980 and 1981, Cal Poly won the Division II national championships.

Shortly after college, Worley met her current doubles partner and best friend, Lea Antonopolis, and they competed together at Wimbledon in 1982.

“It was a thrill,” Worley said of playing in the world’s premiere tennis tournament. “The aura there is just electrifying. The Brits just go crazy. It didn’t seem real when I was there at the time.”

Worley and Antonopolis put up a tough struggle but lost a tight three-setter in Wimbledon’s opening round. The Japanese/Australian team that beat them went on to win four more rounds, “so we felt good about that,” Worley said.

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Although Worley continued to play in Pro-Am tournaments after Wimbledon, she shifted her focus to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in medical administration from Pepperdine University.

In 1984, she married former college classmate Geoff Worley, who had attended Cal Poly Pomona on a basketball scholarship. Their daughter, Jamie, was born three years later; and their son, Dane, was born in 1990.

Then, in February, 1993, Geoff died of skin cancer.

“It’s obviously been a very huge adjustment for us,” Worley said, as she watched her son play on the living room floor. It was hard to believe that a strong, physically fit person could die at only age 35 of melanoma, she said.

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“People say to me all the time, ‘I didn’t know you could die of skin cancer.’ It’s hard to restrain myself from telling mothers to put sunscreen on their children, because severe sunburns in childhood can lead to melanoma.”

About a year after Geoff Worley died, she decided to involve herself more in Tustin politics by running for the City Council. She was serving on the city Parks and Recreation Commission at the time and was no longer working as a medical administrator.

Joining the council was “a big step,” Worley said. “It was something I really wanted to do, but I was facing single parenthood and not quite through the grieving process. But it’s been the best thing for me.

“There’s a lot to learn when you first come on council,” she added. “The first three months were very busy, getting acclimated and meeting lots of new people. But I’ve got a better feel for it now.”

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Despite the demands of being a single parent and a council member, Worley has found time to resume her tennis career. She started training seriously in August, and managed to win the women’s doubles and mixed doubles events in October at the Pacific Southwest Seniors Tournament in Huntington Beach.

“It was a neat feeling to be able to train in a short period of time and do well,” Worley said. “It was a big surprise for me. So now I’m all inspired.”

Next year, Worley and Antonopolis plan to go for a national ranking in the seniors division.

“I don’t want to compete against 25-year-olds, that’s the key,” Worley said. “I want to compete against people who have a few other things going on in their lives.

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“We’re off to a good start.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile: Tracy Worley Hometown and residence: Tustin

Position: Tustin councilwoman

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First elected: April, 1994

Age: 35

Education: Bachelor’s degree, medical administration, Cal Poly Pomona, 1982; master’s degree, business administration, Pepperdine, 1985

Tennis distinction: Two-time All-American at Cal Poly Pomona; Wimbledon doubles, 1982

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Family: Widowed; two children, Jamie, 7, and Dane 4

Attitude: “I consider myself to be an independent thinker. I don’t think the council operates best if members line up on teams, so I refuse to form any alliance.” Source: Tracy Worley


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