“So here I was, heading home in L.A. traffic one Thursday evening earlier this year, when I get a call on my cell asking me to be a sub in this tennis tournament,” shared Elizabeth Winterhalter, a local mortgage banker and longtime Summerland resident.
It meant driving aaaaall the way back down to Irvine the very next day.
But, the We Are Tennis tournament wasn’t like any of the hundred other tourneys Winterhalter had previously played …
No, this was special — sponsored by Bank of the West, her employer, and for employees only.
The bank’s parent company, BNP Paribas Group, is a mega-international financial services organization, headquartered in Paris.
Our investigative sources have confirmed that these people are tennis fanatics — sponsoring pro tournaments pretty much everywhere, like in Indian Wells and the Italian Open, like in Italy.
Seems like a perfect match for Winterhalter — a tennis powerhouse, in her own right.
Both on and off the court …
Since 2005, she has been actively involved with Santa Barbara Tennis Patrons, a local nonprofit organization that “provides life lessons for local youth through a sport of a lifetime.”
“Elizabeth is our fearless leader,” said CathyAnn Simon, SBTP executive director. “She is very passionate about tennis and the community.”
Back to that call …
A mortgage banker in Bank of the West’s downtown Santa Barbara office, she had narrowly missed fielding her own tournament team prior to the registration deadline.
After that, she was on a wait list as a sub — something she had mostly forgotten about.
But her opportunity was now here and required an immediate decision.
“Yes, I’m in!” she responded.
So, Winterhalter braved Friday evening traffic and arrived at the Racquet Club of Irvine on Saturday, morning ready to go!
Eight four-member teams — all California colleagues (most she didn’t know) and comprised of experience levels to balance the competition: Platinum (almost pro), Gold (pretty awesome, too), Silver (has totally “Got Game”) and Bronze (likely not played before).
Doubles and singles play and matches were timed (15 minutes).
Winterhalter caught an early spark and won both of her single matches — not bad for someone who usually only plays doubles.
And in doubles play, she and Wei Zhang, from the San Ramon office, made it to the late afternoon finals. A victory by, at least, eight points would crown their team as tournament champs, plus qualify them for the world playoffs in May.
The pressure was on …
“We knew if we won that it would mean a trip to Italy for the final competition that was being held at Foro Italico Stadium during The Italian Open,” Winterhalter smiled.
They won by 15 points, and next up was Roma, Italy!
Once there in May, Winterhalter’s Team U.S.A. was pooled with Germany, Morocco and Russia.
Here she is in her own words:
“We finished on top of the consolation pool, or 17th in the world. Germany and Morocco were the big winners. But it didn’t really matter; it was an experience beyond my wildest dreams.
“And it never would have happened if it wasn’t for my good friend, Susan McShannock.
“Susan had earlier shared her new ‘Just Say Yes’ life perspective after she suffered a personal loss. And that’s exactly what I thought about in my car when I first received the call to play.
“It would have been so easy to politely decline that invitation, but Susan’s heartfelt message resonated within me and pushed me to, well, Just Say Yes.
“After we won the Irvine tourney to qualify for Italy, I called to thank her for new approach. She was so excited that she said she was coming with me! And she did, along with her daughter, Katie, and we all had so much fun in Italy!”
A wonderful friendship, indeed.
Winterhalter is now back in town … playing on local courts … helping in the community … leading the way with those amazing Tennis Patrons … and, of course, living (and loving) her new life perspective every day.
— WeissCrax columnist Randy Weiss is a longtime Noozhawk contributing writer. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.