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July 11, 2004

Oceanside tennis player overcomes life's setbacks to play in Deaflympics

From: San Diego Union Tribune, CA - Jul 11, 2004

By Whitelaw Reid

July 11, 2004

The normally loquacious Carol Sue Konoski was hesitant when asked how she plays on the tennis court – is she a base-liner, a serve-and-volleyer or a combination of both?

Then Konoski's doubles partner, Laura Kahle, chimed in.

"The best way to describe her is she hits everything back," Kahle said.

The same could be said of Konoski off the court. The Oceanside woman's life has provided one challenge after the next and she always has responded the same way – with an overhead smash.

Konoski, 60, who has earned a spot on the United States team that will travel to Australia in January to compete in the Deaflympics, has been unable to hear since contracting scarlet fever when she was 18 months old.

Reading lips and wearing a hearing aid in her right ear help with her condition, but Konoski said being deaf is not a disadvantage on the court.

"I use my eyes more," said Konoski, a native of Long Island, N.Y., "and watch movement and body language. That's the only way."

In 1966, after graduating from Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf in Washington, D.C., Konoski was ready to move to California.

"I planned to live there and become independent," Konoski said.

But two days after Christmas, while making her way to the Los Angeles area, Konoski drove off the side of a mountain in New Mexico. As her car careened out of control, Konoski said she thought she was going to die. She said her last thought was of her parents.

"I blacked out and woke up in the hospital," Konoski said. "I thanked God for giving me a chance to live."

After the accident, Konoski moved back home with her parents in New York so she could recuperate from numerous injuries that included a broken jaw and ribs.

Konoski worked in her family's jewelry business while still dreaming of one day moving to California.

A few years later she married and had a daughter, Candace, before divorcing in 1973.

Tragedy struck Konoski again in 1984. Her mother and father died within seven months of each other, each from cancer. Konoski said their deaths hit her hard.

"I mourned for them a long time," she said.

About seven years later, with her daughter grown up, Konoski decided it was finally time to do what she had wanted to do 25 years earlier – move to California and play tennis.

Konoski had taken up the sport at a summer camp in Maine when she was 8. She said she was attracted to tennis quickly because of her hyperactive nature as a child.

She said it was also a great way to communicate with other kids.

Konoski played through high school and college. In 1969, she traveled to Yugoslavia to play in the Deaflympics and took third place in doubles. She participated again in 1973 but lost in the first round.

After that, Konoski played sporadically. She missed the sport tremendously, but because of all the things going on in her life she couldn't devote herself to the game. That changed when she arrived in California 13 years ago.

"I love tennis," Konoski said. "I love to hit the ball. It's a passion. I love the competition and meeting new people."

About a year ago, Konoski was presented with yet another hurdle. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy.

"It brought all the ladies in our (tennis league) to tears because we know how unfair it is that she's overcome so much and loves tennis so much and now she had another obstacle," Kahle said.

"We hated it for her, but she was the champion and the one with a smile always on her face, and ended up making us feel good about it."

Kahle said she expected to have to find another doubles partner when Konoski first told her about the cancer.

"I thought, 'Well, I won't see her because she has to go through radiation and has all these doctors appointments,' " Kahle said, "but she showed up every day."

Konoski said when she first found out she had cancer she was petrified.

"I said, 'Am I going to die?' " Konoski said. "I took it one day at a time. That was the only way."

Konoski played tennis in the morning and went to radiation treatments in the afternoon.

In February, just after completing her treatments, Konoski traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., and qualified for her third Deaflympics. She went up against players half her age, including some teenagers.

Konoski said she enjoys the challenge of playing youngsters.

"I have to use my wisdom," Konoski said with a giant smile. "They have more speed and power. I place the ball and make them run and make them earn their points."

Konoski, who recently underwent tests that showed no signs of cancer, said tennis has kept her going through many tough times.

"It's great," she said. "I'm going to keep playing until I drop dead on the court."

James Conda, a pro at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, said he's never seen anyone with so much passion for tennis.

"It's a joy to see someone who loves the sport that much," he said. "She works so hard on her game.

"She's a fireball out there – that's what I call her. She's always wanting to win."

Added Tole Marincovic, a pro at the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in Encinitas: "She's tenacious. She's always trying to run every ball down."

Konoski also has a secret weapon, according to Kahle.

"She reads lips from across the net and (knows what the opposing team's) strategy is, and she tells me what they're going to do," said Kahle, laughing.

Kahle said it's hard not to be inspired whenever she steps on the court with Konoski.

"She's my hero," Kahle said. "She never gives up and always keeps trying. She asks a lot of her partner and just makes you want to rise to the occasion and keep fighting."

Konoski, who became a grandmother last month, said she has never felt sorry for herself or wondered why bad luck seems to find her.

"I think God has a plan for me," she said, "so I say, 'You just have to get through it and show other people you can do it.' "

Whitelaw Reid can be reached at (619) 293-1829 or

© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.