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It’s Gotta Be the Shoes

How tennis and a pair of shoes helped 25-year breast cancer survivor reclaim her passion post-treatment

Tennis has always played an outsized role in Phyllis Dubinsky’s life – but perhaps never bigger than the part it played in helping her recovery from breast cancer.

After Dubinsky completed her breast cancer treatment 25 years ago, the surgery limited her mobility. Her lymph nodes were removed and the nerves in her right arm were cut. She could handle most challenges, but struggled with one key passion: Tennis.

As part of her frustration, she put away a central part of her tennis experience: Her shoes.

“I had a pair of Wilson tennis shoes,” she said. “They were white, and I always felt like I played better with them. It may sound silly, but I loved the shoes and now they were sitting in my closet, idle.  And when I couldn’t play tennis for a period, I really couldn’t even look at the shoes.”

Regardless of her physical challenges, Dubinsky wanted to get back on the court and reclaim the life she lost during treatment.

“Tennis was a wonderful catalyst to my recovery,” she said. “When I got permission – and maybe drove my doctor a little crazy trying to get it – I started to get back on the court.”

To mark the occasion, Dubinsky pulled an old companion out of the closet – her Wilson tennis shoes, now a welcome sight. After six weeks of practice on the court – coupled with swimming– she regained full motion and strength in her arm.

“I am not as fast as I was, but I have a great cross-court forehand,” she said adding to this day, she has not had a lymphedema issue.

Suddenly, Dubinsky’s passion for tennis, which was already high, grew. It became a central part of her life, the experience always beginning when she laced up her shoes. She continued playing several times a week. And then, unexpectedly, it became something more.

In 2009, Phyllis took a summer tennis class at a local community college. The instructor, who just so happened to be the coach for the school team, pitched her an idea she couldn’t refuse: come back to college and play tennis for us.

Dubinsky, who was 55 years old at the time, didn’t bat an eye at meeting the requirements, which included becoming a full-time student. Not only did she maintain a 4.0 GPA, but also the team won its division for the first time in 30 years.

“It was fantastic! I have a ball signed by the team members and a lovely trophy that names me as part of this great team,” she said.

While she relied on her athletic ability match after match, Dubinsky also credits an integral – if not emotional – piece of equipment with her success: her Wilson tennis shoes.

“There was no way I would play without them, they are definitely a part of my winning spirit,” she added.

Wilson, a BCRF corporate partner since 1998, has donated $3 million to support breast cancer research. It’s a commitment that resonates with survivors like Dubinsky.

“I can't think of anything more empowering than having a debilitating illness and have a company support an effort to bring strength, empowerment and good health back into one's life,” she said.  “It certainly did and continues to do that for me.”

To this day, Dubinsky is on the courts two to three times a week. She won her latest singles match with a score of 6-0. 4-6, 6-1. Her recent Wilson purchase led her to reach out to the company and BCRF to show her gratitude.  

“The research in breast cancer is amazing and needs to continue,” she wrote. “The great strides being made in research whether it's through early discovery or targeted treatments which are so important, or genomic and epigenomic discoveries, give me confidence that there may some day be cure,” she said. “I thank you Wilson for your part in making that happen.”

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