Shriver at 34: Life serves up changes Adjustments: With other than tennis matters taking priority, Pam Shriver's life is headed in a different direction.

November 24, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Open Pam Shriver's front door and meet her housemate, a black Labrador retriever who sits patiently in the foyer, a relentless look on his face and a jaunty red kerchief around his neck.

"He's very well-behaved," said Shriver, nodding toward the life-sized ceramic statue.

For years, this was as close to a personal commitment as Shriver got. Tennis left little time for pets, much less romantic relationships for the 18-year tour veteran from Baltimore.

But Shriver is at a crossroads. At 34, her game is winding down, her priorities changing. She flies to Louisville, Ky., not to volley but to visit her sister, Marion, who has cancer. And Shriver, once the No. 3 player in the world, also makes time to be with a new boyfriend.

"Pam cannot sit still -- but she's learning," Marion said of her younger sibling. "I think she's noticing sunsets more. But then, she's in love."

His name is Joe Shapiro, and he is 15 years older and about 3 inches shorter than the 6-foot Shriver, who has been dating the former Disney executive for four months.

"He's very funny and we're having a terrific time," said Shriver, who will be in town Tuesday for the Signet Bank Tennis Challenge at the Baltimore Arena. "We've worked it out so that we won't be apart for more than 10 days at a time for the next five months.

"It's a significant new thing for me. It's kind of scary."

Shapiro appears to have passed muster with the rest of the Shriver clan.

"He seems genuinely interested in Pam," said Shriver's younger sister, Eleanor. "She's happier than she's been in a long time. I think she will be settling down soon and having a family."

Four years ago, while playing doubles at Wimbledon, Shriver realized she was the only single woman on the court, and the only one who wasn't expecting a child.

That concerned her, at 30. Maybe I'll try growing my hair long, she thought. That seems to help find men.

So Shriver grew her hair longer.

She met Shapiro in California last spring. He asked her to dinner; she demurred. "I'm going to the U.S. Open [in New York] for two weeks," Shriver said.

Shapiro flew cross-country for their date.

"I think he holds a sort of fascination for Pam," said her father, Sam Shriver. "He challenges her intellectually. I wouldn't want to assess romantic issues, but they get along quite nicely."

Marion, who shared a house with Pam for seven years before getting married, is glad her sister is mellowing -- whether Pam's current relationship works or not. "She's always seemed to be bailing someone else out, running clinics, committees, political things," Marion said. "The one thing I've learned since having cancer is that you have to be nice to yourself."

Five years ago, Marion was found to have the disease; since then, she has weathered seven operations. Last year, when her condition worsened, Pam gave her a cherished keepsake for Christmas: a gold locket with pictures of the girls' grandmothers. Engraved on the locket were the words Be Good -- the last advice they received from their father's mother.

Marion's relapse hit Pam hard.

"I cried every day," Shriver said. "I'd drive down the road, and a certain song would come on the radio, and I'd think about her, and I'd start crying. It's the most painful thing I've ever been through."

Marion, 36, began turning to alternative forms of treatment, including a macrobiotic diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and old-fashioned positive thinking.

Last summer, when Marion felt better, she and Pam attended the Olympics in Atlanta. They rented a house in Stone Mountain, Ga., cooked for each other and even played pickup basketball games in the driveway. Marion, who loves dressage, took Pam to the equestrian events, and Pam got them tickets for basketball.

"You can live with cancer," said Marion. "You can live with it as long as you want. The lesson I've learned with cancer is we need to be good to ourselves."

For Marion, who struggled with dyslexia as a child, the fight against cancer has been "her greatest accomplishment," Pam said. "She has approached it physically, mentally and emotionally. She's left nothing undone to conquer it."

That's part of being a Shriver.

Pam and her sisters share more than a physical resemblance. To call them strong-willed "would be an understatement," their father says.

"It's a reflection of their upbringing and their mother's influence," said Sam Shriver, 65, who owns a company that advises people on estate planning and risk management. "Neither of us put constraints on what they could accomplish."

Achievers

At 16, Pam reached the final of the U.S. Open. She held a Top 10 singles ranking for a decade and was one-half of tennis' all-time best women's doubles team with Martina Navratilova. Marion overcame reading problems to earn a master's degree from Towson State and teach dyslexic children at the Jemicy School in Owings Mills. By 24, Eleanor had created a women's lacrosse program at Alfred University in upstate New York.

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