Garrison tries to help others by helping self
The San Diego Union-Tribune
uesday, August 25, 1992
Author: ED GRANEY
She remembers the times, all of them. Each meal. A secret, it was. Fighting it, she was. Days and weeks and years of fighting. Still does.
You don't get much more successful at a profession than Zina Garrison has. Not many in the tennis world are allowed a curtsy at a Centre Court Wimbledon final. Not many earn $3 million in career winnings. Not many ever reach a No. 4 ranking. The most fortunate do. The best do.
But life, at times, is very cruel, and even those who excel to elite levels aren't spared. Eating disorders like bulimia do not ask names before taking action. Garrison knows this. She lives it.
That was her last night, winning another match, dismissing another opponent, charging the net and volleying winner after winner. Garrison beat Escondido's Ros Fairbank-Nideffer, 6-3, 6-2, in a first-round match of the Mazda Tennis Classic at La Costa Resort & Spa.
The questions haven't changed the past few years. Over and over. What's going on? Why does the ranking keep slipping? Where are the days of 1990? Over and over.
"To some extent, you always want to be a perfectionist," said Garrison, 28. "You never want to admit this could happen to you."
Truth be told, it's incredible to think what Garrison accomplished while competing with her disease. The bulimic episodes began in 1983, the year her mother passed away.
Seems a relative suggested Garrison the athlete could stay fit and trim one easy way. Eat and purge. Eat and purge.
For six of the next seven years, Garrison remained among the world's top 10 players. She ended Chris Evert's Grand Slam career in 1989. And still purged.
She was married that year to Willard Jackson. Still, she ate, went off by herself and purged.
By reaching the Wimbledon final a year later -- she beat Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in consecutive matches -- she became the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson in 1958.
Still. Meal after meal.
Her hair fell out. Her fingernails became soft. Her skin wasn't healthy.
"The thing about it is, you can't run from food," Garrison said. "It's going to be there."
Perhaps harder than dealing with the bulimia was keeping it a secret, something Garrison did until recently. Longtime friends and opponents never knew. Ditto her six siblings. She wouldn't let them.
But such is typical Garrison. She is a woman who cares deeply about others and their problems, about helping those less fortunate realize their dreams. Or just have a better life. A better week. A better day.
The homeless and children of inner-cities receive much of Garrison's free time and support. Tennis clinics for those in need are traditionally given.
There is the story about how Garrison once tripped over a homeless man in San Francisco, then woke up that night, her thoughts of him and his plight. That kind of passion, that kind of concern.
Now, there is another cause. Her own. If she can help one person, it's worth it to talk about. Denial, as with many such diseases, accompanies most of those who suffer from bulimia.
"I don't think I can be a savior," Garrison said. "But knowing someone like me has it, it may make them (admit) they do, too."
She is ranked 14th now, still very respectable. She didn't reach No. 1, probably never will. She lost in the first round of this year's Olympics. She has captured just one title in nearly two years.
But what may have seemed like the ultimate goals two years ago hardly compare to what she has learned since, the knowledge and strength she has gained. The fight is not over. She had a reoccurrence in January. Day by day, day by day.
"It was relief coming forward," Garrison said. "Realizing I'm a public figure, people would have talked about it anyway.
"The only thing holding me back now is Zina. At times, I'm too emotional. But I still believe I can be a contender and compete with the top 10 players. At least for a few more years."
Let's hope it's for much longer. There are few like her.