Kerrigan remains strong in battling adversity
Cindy Kerrigan isn't only a warrior on the court, but in life as well. A Westport native who has lived in town her entire life, Kerrigan developed into a formidable tennis player, especially impressive considering it's a sport she played for the first time 16 years ago.
Kerrigan picked up a racket after a suggestion from her husband Tom. He came up with the idea when his wife, at the time a stay-at-home mom, wanted to do something while their sons, Thomas John (Staples class of `03) and Brian (Staples class of `05) were in school.
A member of the Middlebury Just Out (MJO) tennis team that recently took second place at Nationals, Kerrigan cut her teeth at the Norwalk Tennis Club before MJO recruited her away. She got her start on the courts at Norwalk in 1992 and played in an adult singles league. At first, Kerrigan was so new to the sport that she didn't even know how to keep score but her lack of familiarity didn't affect her play, as she won the league title.
"I was really surprised," recalls Kerrigan.
This wasn't the first time she quickly mastered a sport. Growing up as Cindy Wirth, she was a well-recognized semi professional bowler. Coached by her father, Lewis Wirth II, Kerrigan held the junior record and women's record at Westport Lanes, which was located where Pier One Imports stands today. She credits her father for her drive and her mom Loretta for her caring ways and broad shoulders.
At the age of 13, her then-friend (and current husband), Tom Kerrigan (Staples High School class of `73), got her into the rifle club through Westport Police Athletic League. Kerrigan brought home her share of awards there as well.
Although she excelled in bowling and with the rifle, she couldn't compete for Staples, because being a semipro bowler in an adult league made her ineligible for scholastic sports.
"They hated me for it," recalls Kerrigan. `It was really tough [not being eligible to play for Staples] because I thrive in playing sports."
While Staples wasn't an option, Kerrigan found other outlets for her athleticism, playing shortstop for the Black Duck softball team while performing solidly with both the bat and the glove.
Moreover, she had an opportunity to become a professional bowler but didn't follow through on it because women didn't get paid much in the sport back then.
After graduating from Staples in 1975, Kerrigan attended the University of Bridgeport and graduated in 1979 with a degree in accounting. She then married Tom and they started a family.
Shortly after joining the Norwalk Tennis Club, Kerrigan was offered the job as program coordinator, a position she held for 13 years. She stopped working there when club ownership changed hands.
Leaving her job as program coordinator was the least of Kerrigan's worries as soon, she was dealing with a bigger issue.
In 2003, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had to take 18 months off from tennis. Kerrigan has battled the disease with the same vigor she's used against her opponents on the court while at the same time remaining strong, both physically and emotionally through the ordeal.
When she recovered from surgery and returned to the court, she moved up the ranking from a 3.5 to a 4 at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) level. Recently, her cancer returned and she had to take a temporary leave from competition because of the rigors of her treatment. Nevertheless, MJO keeps her on the roster because they are hoping she'll be playing for them in the near future.
For the time being, Kerrigan is considered MJO's No. 1 cheerleader. While she patiently awaits the chance to play for MJO, she plays recreationally for the Connecticut/New York Interclub league.
"I miss it terribly," says Kerrigan. "When I walk onto the court, I still have the competitive edge. I now play more for fun and the social part of the game."
Kerrigan does what she can to give back, recently holding a fund-raiser for cancer at the Stamford Indoor Tennis Club in May. Kerrigan plans on doing it again next spring.
"I need to do things for people," says Kerrigan. "Because of the cancer, I haven't done much for others. Everyone does things for me. When I have a chance to help others, I jump at the opportunity."
In the end, she remains optimistic about the future and maintains a positive attitude.
"I'm very hopeful I'll beat it," Kerrigan said. "My husband is my No. 1 supporter, my siblings [a brother, Lewis III, and two sisters, Sandy Beardsley and Wendy Spencer] are outstanding. My `tennis angels' have helped. I'm determined to beat it and enjoy life."