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About 10 years ago she gave me her personal and private AOL e-mail address.

THIS ISSUE > ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT > READOUT

Martina Calling
In a cell phone chat, Martina Navratilova discusses life and her new fitness book. Plus ReadOut Shorts: GLBT youth write, and more....

See also ReadOut Shorts: GLBT youth write. Queen of the Oddballs. And America's Boy: A Memoir:
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Getting a phone call from Martina Navratilova is as surreal as it is to be her friend. I became obsessed with the tennis superstar when I was 8 years old, some 30 years ago—how those around me didn't figure out I was gay after this odd development is beyond me!—and I can never fully grasp the reality that I now know Martina personally.

As a child, I was a Martina freak in a class all my own, evidenced by the poster in my bedroom of Martina hitting a slice backhand with a wooden Bancroft racquet, that vein bulging down her muscled arm, and wearing one of those 1970s dresses by Ted Tinling (the late tennis authority and couturier, who was openly gay). The dress looked like a sleeveless man's dress shirt, with big collars and buttons down the front, and often outrageously decorated with glitter and rhinestones. I created a devotional collage, using clippings from the tennis magazines that I forced my mother to buy me and surrounding Martina's backhand with spectacular cutout images of her, on and off the court.

I became a walking encyclopedia of everything Martina and today consider myself as knowledgeable about her amazing life and career as pretty much anybody.

I grew up in the small town of Bonham, Texas, an hour north of Dallas—where Martina just happened to be living at the time (she spent the Sandra Haynie/Nancy Lieberman/Judy Nelson years in the Dallas-Fort Worth area)—and had my first personal interaction with her at age 10 in 1978, just watching her play and getting her autograph at the Virginia Slims of Dallas, which was held in the intimate Moody Coliseum at Southern Methodist University, a perfect venue for tennis. After various encounters spanning 10 years and occurring in locales from Wimbledon to Aspen, and after I had started writing about professional tennis in college, I began to become friendly with Martina. About 10 years ago she gave me her personal and private AOL e-mail address, which I put to use probably half a dozen times a year (and she usually sends a prompt and well-written reply).

My affiliation with Martina has led to some of the true highlights of my life—getting to march beside her at the 1993 GLBT March on Washington; being in Newport, Rhode Island, for her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000; and following her on her farewell singles tour in 1994, including a trip to Wimbledon (where she came up just short of winning a ridiculous 10th singles title—she had captured an all-time record-breaking ninth title in 1990—losing to another lesbian player, the recently retired Spaniard, Conchita Martinez); and a trip to New York to see Martina's very last singles match (against the gorgeous Argentine Gabriela Sabatini) at the season-ending WTA Championships at Madison Square Garden that November. (Of course, that wasn't really her last singles match, since amazing Martina went and played singles at Wimbledon in 2004 and actually won a match at age 47 years and 8 months, making her the oldest player ever to win a singles match in the Open Era.)

This is an exciting time for Martina as she approaches her 50th birthday on October 18. Seen by many as an age-defying bionic woman, she is still competing fiercely in doubles on the pro tour, but lives a serene existence off-court when she's at her new home near Sarasota, Florida, with her beloved dogs and her long-time (and very media-shy) partner, Toni. After settling a messy court fight with her Rainbow Card business partners last year, Martina has gained complete control of the company (which gives around 10 cents of every credit card purchase to GLBT causes), and she is now a spokeswoman for Olivia, the lesbian cruise line (last summer, in Houston for a World Team Tennis match, Navratilova attended an Olivia reception at Westside Tennis Club). She will be treated like royalty when she attends the World Outgames, July 28-29, in Montreal. And on top of all this, she just came out with a fitness book— Shape Your Life: My 6-step Diet and Fitness Plan to Achieve the Best Shape of Your Life [see sidebar next page]—and has been promoting it everywhere from Martha Stewart to Charlie Rose.

I recently sent the ever-outspoken Martina an e-mail entitled "phone chat" and telling her, "I'm writing a piece about your book and would love five minutes with you on the phone." I thought she might have already left for the European clay court season, so I didn't know if I would hear from her. The next afternoon, I'm on Audubon, driving to the OutSmart office. My cell phone rings. It's Martina.

Bradley David Williams: Hello.
Martina Navratilova: Hey, Brad. It's Martina. You got five minutes. Go!

How are you? Where are you? [while frantically pulling over]
I'm at the airport about to get on a plane, so time is of the essence.

Are you going to Europe?
Yeah.

You had to cut short your book tour?
Yeah, I had to go to the Czech Republic. My mother was very sick, but she's better. Yeah, she's gonna make it, and she's out of the hospital.

But she's not able to travel anymore?
She has emphysema, so she can't fly.

So tell me about the book. What has been your reaction to the reaction you've gotten about the book?
Well, it's just been out a little while, and I said I didn't even want everybody to buy the book. I said that if you have a friend, you can pass it around. I'm just happy that I'm able to help some people to get in better shape and to not have unrealistic expectations.

That's what I loved — the part about the unrealistic expectations. I think a lot of people might be surprised that you are so sensitive to the average person in America who is overweight and a couch potato. You must have known one or two in your life.
Of course. We all have. The key is to not have unrealistic expectations for yourself, but to just take lots of baby steps and make gradual changes over time. Because otherwise you just get discouraged and give up the whole thing.

When you landed your deal with Olivia, you said something about how you wanted to influence all the overweight lesbians that go on these cruises.
Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of women in our community who have this problem. I'm not sure why.

It's not a very good advertisement for us, because it says we are emotional eaters.
Well, I don't know. Maybe straight women diet more for their husbands. I don't know. It could be emotions, but it's also our sedentary lifestyle. They've done away with exercise programs in the workplace in a lot of places. We're just a sedentary society.

Have you been on any of the cruises?
Yes, I've been on two.

Where?
The Mexican Riviera, and then I just went on one in the Caribbean. I was just there for three days on the ship on this last one. I had to fly back from Puerto Rico.

Do you enjoy being on the ship?
Yes, very much so.

And do you lead fitness classes on the boat?
I work out in the gym on the ship, so I keep in shape.

No, I mean what is your role on the ship? Do you do any seminars?
I do a fitness demonstration, and I do a speech. And an autograph signing.

I was so sad about the Rainbow Card mess.
Yeah, it was unfortunate, but I've got the company now, and I'm going to try and make it even better than it was before.

I have this framed photograph of the two of us in my den, and it was taken by your old friend [and Rainbow Card co-founder and business partner], Pam Derderian.
Yeah, well, the friendship went south, and that's when I was forced to file the lawsuit. They were using my image after I had asked them not to.

I think everybody has had close friendships that crumble, and it's almost like a divorce.
It is.

Your remarks about The L Word have been very controversial in the gay press [part of her falling out with her business partners involved the Rainbow Card's marketing affiliation with The L Word , which Navratilova called an inaccurate portrayal of lesbians].
Well, I don't really want to get into that.

A lot of people are surprised that Martina isn't more sex-positive and that she's almost prudish.
I'm not being prudish. It has nothing to do with being sex-positive. I just don't think that the women portrayed on the show accurately represent us to the world. And it's our only show. If we had 20 different shows, it would be different, but this is our only one. I think it presents a false image of who we are, and I think a lot of lesbians are offended by it.

What about Queer as Folk? How many times have you seen that?
I've never seen it.

Well, see, gay men are totally different because most gay men love Queer as Folk. And very few of them are saying, "It's a false depiction of us," because most gay men are that promiscuous! Hello! What do you think about the way the gay community eats it own? I know you said the Advocate did a number on you when you were featured on the cover last year.
Yeah, they said I was getting rid of the Rainbow Card and going with Olivia, when they had absolutely nothing to do with each other. My contract with the Rainbow Card didn't say anything about me not having other endorsements. And the woman who interviewed me, she didn't tell me—it was supposed to just be about Olivia and they didn't even f--king tell me they were doing a story on the Rainbow Card. I hadn't read it, but I saw the pictures and thought they were good, and then I saw the subtitle, and it said I was getting rid of the Rainbow Card and going with Olivia.

And they kind of outed your partner, right? [Navratilova's partner's name was revealed in court papers.]
They did. Same thing the New York Post did to me in 1976.

What about, in general, the way the gay community eats its own?
Yeah, it's ridiculous.

And our political organizations — there's nothing but infighting.
I know. I'm not Malcolm X. [Laughs] I mean, I want to be a leader, but we're all going to have to come together.

So you're at the airport in Sarasota right now?
Yeah. I'm going to Orlando and then on to Europe from there.

What's your schedule?
Warsaw, Prague, Rome, Paris, Eastbourne, and Wimbledon.

I bet you're excited about playing in Prague.
Yeah, I played there in '86 for Fed Cup, but this will be the first time since then.

In your book in 1984, you sort of outed yourself as an atheist or an agnostic.
Agnostic.

But these days we see you wearing a cross around your neck.
I'm not Catholic. [ Laughs ] So why are you wearing the cross?

Well, you don't have to be Jewish to wear a Star of David . . .
I'm very, very spiritual, but not like that. [ Laughs ]

You're a spiritual agnostic. I like that. Thank you so much for talking to me, Martina, and have a wonderful time in Europe. I'll be in touch.
Sure. Thanks, Brad. Bye.
_____________________________

In Shape Your Self: My 6-Step Diet and Fitness Plan to Achieve the Best Shape of Your Life (Rodale Press), Martina Navratilova reaches out to the average American slob with sensible advice, while at the same time singing the praises of unorthodox practices like eating organic and raw foods and embracing a "less is more" exercise concept.

The attractive book, featuring an Annie Leibovitz photo of Navratilova on the cover, includes chapters devoted to each step, including "Make Your Own Come- back," "Develop the Mentality of an Athlete," and "Re-charge and Energize." The second half of the book features a nutrition plan, including Navratilova's own recipes, and an exercise plan, accompanied by photos of the author and her trainer, Lisa Austin, in workout poses.

For those hungry for a follow-up to her revealing 1984 autobiography, you won't be entirely disappointed. Navratilova peppers the text with personal anecdotes, like the one about her friend Katharine Hepburn taught her the importance of journaling. — Review: B.D.W.

Bradley David Williams interviewed playwright Lanford Wilson for our April 2005 issue. He tells us he intends to write a book on Navratilova someday.
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See also ReadOut Shorts: GLBT youth write. Queen of the Oddballs. And America's Boy: A Memoir:




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