Shannon McPeak Heislerâ€™s journey to tennis greatness at Brunswick High School in the mid-to-late 1980s, a college scholarship and eventually a spot in the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame nearly ended before it really began.
In fact, it probably should have ended it. It would have for most kids.
Looking for an athletic activity they could do as a couple and as a family, McPeak Heislerâ€™s parents, Gary and Kathleen McPeak of Brunswick, began playing tennis. McPeak Heisler, the youngest of the children, was 7 at the time, and it was fun for her to take a racquet and strike the soft tennis ball off on the side while Mom and Dad were volleying.
Erin McPeak, now Erin Shiuno of Austin, Texas, and a 1992 Medina County HOF inductee, took an immediate liking to the sport, too. Her parents decided to enter her in a tournament, and a career was born.
By the time Shannon was 10, Mom and Dad thought it was her turn to try her hand at competitive tennis and signed her up for a tourney.
â€œThere were just two of us in the 10-and-under division, so we both immediately qualified for the championship,â€ recalled McPeak Heisler, who will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame with the other members of the class of 2009 during the 24th annual banquet set for June 18 at 6 p.m. at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth.
â€œI lost 6-0, 6-0,â€ she said.
It doesnâ€™t get any worse than that in the sport.
And in singles the wins mean more because you — and you alone — earn them and, unfortunately, so do the losses.
â€œI was upset. I was humiliated,â€ McPeak Heisler said of the one-sided defeat.
Children that age are looking for their niche, something they enjoy and are good at, whether it be athletics, playing a musical instrument, whatever.
As mentioned, McPeak Heisler liked tennis. But no one likes losing by a shutout in straight sets.
Maybe she could just continue to play softball. She did, and went on to play all four years at Brunswick, being a member of the schoolâ€™s Class AAA state championship team in 1986.
How about basketball? She did that as well, eventually playing her first three years for the Blue Devils.
But she wasnâ€™t going to quit tennis. She had some unfinished business.
â€œIâ€™m very competitive,â€ McPeak Heisler said. â€œI donâ€™t like to lose, and from that point on, I made sure I didnâ€™t.
â€œI wanted to get better, so I went out and practiced and practiced and practiced. There was a tennis court near our home, which made it easy for me to play a lot.â€
It wasnâ€™t long before she went from struggling to one of the best youth players around. As a young teen, she was the No. 1-ranked player in Northeast Ohio.
Brunswick coach Sue Esker couldnâ€™t wait until McPeak Heisler got to the school. It was more than worth the wait. McPeak Heisler, like her sister, Erin, had a prep career that most players can only dream about, becoming one of the top players in Ohio.
She was 116-13 playing No. 1 singles for four years.
She was a four-time qualifier for the district tournament, winning the title one year, and made it to state on three occasions. She was the Pioneer Conference MVP and Medina Countyâ€™s first MVP in girls tennis before graduating in 1988.
Looking back, she remembers simply the experience of playing high school tennis more than she does all of the success she enjoyed.
â€œI didnâ€™t really ever think about the winning,â€ McPeak Heisler said. â€œIt was just a great time in my life. I had fun. Sue Esker made it fun.
â€œI didnâ€™t lose many matches, but when I did lose, she made sure it was no big deal. It was just a game, and there was always another day to come back and try again.â€
And thatâ€™s the contradiction in McPeak Heislerâ€™s life. We mean that in a good way.
For here was this teenager who, as she pointed out, was ultra-competitive to the point where she worked long and hard to perfect her skills and make sure she never, ever again got humiliated on a tennis court again, yet that effort never consumed her, as it does many others. Tennis never consumed or defined her, as it does many others. She kept it in perspective.
And she has carried that healthy attitude over to her adult life â€” both on the tennis court and otherwise.
She still plays tennis recreationally, and competitively, being part of a team that last year won the national championship.
â€œBut when I lose, itâ€™s like, â€˜Oh, well,â€™ and I move on,â€ she said.
She said sheâ€™s surprised at how many girls she competed against in high school â€” girls who by the time they were old enough to hold a racquet were made to believe that tennis was the be-all and end-all â€” â€œhave gotten burned out on the sport and donâ€™t even play any more. I bet itâ€™s 75 percent.â€
Following graduation from Brunswick, McPeak Heisler played at Ohio University, doing quite well as a freshman and sophomore and setting up what looked to be a promising final two seasons of her collegiate career. Then she and her Bobcats teammates had the rug pulled out from under them.
â€œThe school decided to eliminate womenâ€™s and menâ€™s tennis in a cost-cutting move,â€ she said.
That did what the little girl all those years before in that first tournament couldnâ€™t do â€” end McPeak Heislerâ€™s competitive career for all intents and purposes.
â€œI could have transferred to another school and continued playing, but I was settled in there with my major (sports industry, with a minor in business) and didnâ€™t want to move,â€ she said. â€œAnd I realized by then that I wasnâ€™t going to become a professional player, so I just stayed.â€
And in 1992, she got her degree, right on schedule.
McPeak Heisler has lived in Chesapeake, Va., for the last two years and works for a company that manages hospitality for groups visiting the area. Her husband of 14 years, Michael, a former tennis player himself while growing up in Red Lion, Pa., works for the Coast Guard, traveling to foreign countries to make sure that the ports there are safe for incoming U.S. ships.
The couple has moved a lot over the years.
â€œOne of the neatest things in my life is that we got to do two different tours in Hawaii,â€ she said. â€œWe really loved it there.â€
They have one child, Molli.
â€œShe wonâ€™t be 6 until July, but sheâ€™s a big girl and she already looks like sheâ€™s about 7,â€ McPeak Heisler said.
With that size, then, is her daughter a budding tennis star?
â€œShe does well when we hit the ball around and she seems to like tennis, but Iâ€™m not going to push it on her,â€ McPeak Heisler said. â€œMy parents never pushed me, and I appreciated that. I think itâ€™s a good philosophy to have.
â€œSo, if she decides she wants to start playing more, thatâ€™s great. And if she doesnâ€™t, thatâ€™s OK, too. I want her to do something, but I really donâ€™t care what. She likes to play volleyball, so maybe it will be that. Weâ€™ve got this little beach volleyball that we hit around and have a lot of fun with.â€
And if Molli decides to pursue volleyball competitively and her first experience turns out to be underwhelming, then she will be fortunate enough to get counsel from someone who has been there, done that, and not only refused to let it stop her, but instead used it an inspiration to get where she wanted to go.