Good sports in the family: Two can play that game

Health: Spouses of professional athletes find that home life is happier when they too can follow their dreams.

Health & Fitness

October 14, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun Staff

When B.J. Surhoff plays baseball, it's for thousands of fans. When Polly Surhoff swims, she's in a world of her own.

Swimming gives Polly, 37, a break from raising four children and taking care of everything at home while husband B.J., also 37, a former Oriole, plays baseball in Atlanta for the Braves. And the former college swimming champion and current open-water racer is as serious in the pool as her husband is when he steps up to the plate.

Being the spouse of a professional athlete might sound glamorous, but it can be challenging. Athletes often spend months at a time training, and weeks or months away from home. For some of the partners left behind, pursuing their own athletic activities is beneficial to their relationships and to their own well-being.

"Swimming makes me a whole person mentally, physically, socially," says Surhoff, who lives in Cockeysville and trains four days a week for several open-water competitions a year. "I am not worth talking to when I haven't swum."

For Surhoff, along with spouses of other professional athletes -- from the wives of Ravens football players to a former college soccer player who encouraged his wife to turn pro -- spending more time with sports on their own terms can make for a happy home.

Surhoff was a successful competitive swimmer growing up in Ellicott City and at the University of North Carolina. After several collegiate and national championships, including a medal in the 1983 Pan American games and a third-place finish in the 1984 Olympic trials, she was ready for a break. She became a flight attendant, married B.J., whom she met when they were both freshmen at North Carolina, and had four children in four years.

After the Surhoffs moved to Baltimore in 1996, a friend talked Polly into returning to the water, and she was hooked again.

"It was really good, " she says. "I'd been the mom and wife, and here I finally got to do my own thing. And it was really attractive and really addictive."

She no longer races in the pool, but open-water races, like the annual four-mile Chesapeake Bay Swim, offer plenty of competitive challenges. This year Surhoff placed fourth out of 156 women, about half of whom were younger, and won in her age group against 35 other women ages 35 to 39.

One of the main reasons she stays fit, she says, "is for the kids." And with B.J. often away, she wants to make sure Austin, 10, Mason, 9, Kendall, 7 and Jordan, 6, have another good fitness role model.

"Even after these four kids and a husband who's hardly ever at home," she adds, "I can still do something for myself -- physically keep myself active."

There are additional benefits to her disciplined training. "I feel like I'm in the best shape I've been in since I was 16," she says.

Wives get together

For a group of Baltimore wives who hit the tennis courts while their husbands are bringing home championship trophies, fitness is a goal, if a less competitive one than for Polly Surhoff. But for the spouses of Ravens players and coaches, building personal relationships is as important as reaching personal bests.

"Six months out of the year, this is it, this is family," says Tina Byner, 39, of Reisterstown, speaking of her tennis partners.

She started playing tennis when her husband, Ernest, was a running back for the Washington Redskins, after she had her third child. When Ernest became director of player programs for the Ravens, she encouraged other Ravens wives to join her on the courts.

Last season a small group of women, including Kim Billick, wife of coach Brian Billick, Kimberly Bobo, wife of Ravens guard Orlando Bobo, and Peggy Lewis, wife of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, met weekly for lessons and games.

Before and after their court times, they would catch up on each other's lives.

"It's nice to have somebody who knows exactly how you feel," says Peggy Lewis, 41, of Finksburg.

This year several more Ravens wives plan to get involved, including Rashidah Taylor, 22, of Reisterstown, whose husband, Travis, is a wide receiver.

Rashidah, who is finishing her bachelor's degree at Towson University, works out with her husband during the off-season. She stays in shape to keep up with her daughters, Tionna, 2, and 10-month-old Torrie.

"Staying in shape is always good. You'll live longer," says Travis, but he knows Rashidah gets other benefits, too. Being the mother of young children, he says, "I think it's a good thing [for her] to get out of the house a little bit."

Rashidah says she would prefer basketball, but is willing to learn tennis to be part of the group.

"My main goal for this year is for the wives to be united," she says of the support network.

Couples team up

In some cases, sharing a sport works best for couples. When Liza Raulerson met her future husband on the golf course, "I immediately realized we both had golf in our blood," she says.

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