BLUE HENS SPOTLIGHT: We’re in this Together
Written by sophomore Sara Komer
From day one, Sue and Joyce were your classic Venus and Serena pairing. The Nidzgorski twins grew up playing tennis together, attended the University of Delaware together, and played No. 1 doubles together. With so many similarities, one unfortunate discovery sets the twins apart while also bringing them closer. After an unforgettable contribution to the Blue Hens, school programs, and her family, one moment and two words changed Sue’s life forever: ovarian cancer.
It was in 2013 that Sue (below left) heard these words in the realm of her life and future aspirations. Sue had two decisions; she could give up, or fight.
When asked how Sue reacted to this life-altering news, Joyce responded, “Amazingly. She accepted it with such grace. She’s such a freaking fighter, and she won’t give up. It’s a kind of quiet grit that she always had.”
Ever since she was a young girl, Sue always fought and competed for everything. She grew up in Wilmington, Del. playing USTA events and advancing far into junior tennis tournaments.
Many top NCAA Division I programs recruited Sue, but she chose her home state of Delaware to showcase her skills and passion for tennis. She immediately became a major threat as a top-flight singles and doubles player.
Joyce compared Sue to Rafael Nadal saying, “You had to be prepared to go out there and run a marathon mentally against her.”
With her twin sister Joyce right behind her at in the No. 2 singles position, the duo went undefeated for two years in a row. Sue upheld the nickname her father gave to her, “Steady Eddie,” as she steadily wore down her opponents and broke the school record for most wins at the time.
Following an unfortunate rollerblading accident which forced Sue to sit out most of her junior year, she jumped back on the court her senior year at the number one doubles spot with Joyce.
When Sue’s time at UD concluded in 1981, she traveled around Delaware, South Carolina, and Virginia working as a school teacher and tennis coach. She taught a wide variety of subjects while also coaching both men and women secondary school teams.
While teaching on court in 2013, Sue began to have difficulty breathing, and the source became known as ovarian cancer.
“My new normal changed. Cancer becomes a mental game,” Sue recalled.
Current Delaware head coach and former Blue Hens player in her own right, Laura Travis, got in contact with Sue this past spring, and shared she wanted to dedicate our match against Temple to Sue.
When Laura asked about the lessons she learned along this difficult journey, Sue stated “You learn to be patient when you don’t want to; you learn to be brave when you’re scared beyond belief.”
As a current player on the women’s tennis squad, my teammates and I had no doubt in our minds that we wanted and needed to support our fellow Blue Hen. As we stepped on the court, ready to take on Temple, we knew that this match was bigger than us.
Our teal wristbands that stated, “We’re in this together,” were a reminder that tougher battles were being fought elsewhere. We weren’t just playing for ourselves. We were playing for our teammates, the University of Delaware, and Sue.
|Joyce (top row, second from left) and twin sister Sue (top row, third from right)
were standouts for the Blue Hens from 1978-81
With two competitive doubles matches complete, the score was 1-1. My doubles partner, Sarah Hall, and I needed to win our match to secure the doubles point against the Owls. After fighting off three match points we prevailed with a 7-6 (6) win.
The team rushed the court with excitement, but we knew there was more work to be done. With our typical No. 1 singles player, Brooke Pilkington, sitting out due to an elbow injury, we knew that our singles matches were going to be a battle. As everyone moved up a spot in the lineup, it was evident that we would have to be patient when we didn’t want to and brave when we were scared.
Before we knew it, the match was tied, 3-3.
Annie Jaskulski, at No. 4 singles, would have to win to clinch the match for the Blue Hens. Annie was down, 5-7 7-5 0-3, and an optimistic final result looked uncertain for Delaware.
As we all stood at half court cheering, and Coach Travis sat calmly next to Annie during the changeover, something inspiring occurred on those courts. With Sue in our hearts giving us courage and determination, Annie won six straight games to capture the match.
Sue’s grit on the court and in life inspires not only our team but also everyone she meets. She is constantly going through cycles of surgery and chemo with a smile on her face and a determined attitude. She brings a ray of sunshine and hope everywhere she goes as she hands out lifesavers to all her doctors and nurses. Sue even gave her racquets to one of her chemo nurses to continue spreading her love for tennis.
After spreading her love of tennis her whole life, Sue’s new goal is to spread the word about ovarian cancer to all women. She strives to educate everyone and provide knowledge about the possibility of donating organs to save lives.
The Blue Hens women’s tennis team, Delaware athletics, and every life Sue touched will forever be impacted by her grace and inspiring attitude. Although the road has been difficult for Sue and Joyce, Joyce reminded me, “We’re Fightin’ Blue Hens.”
There’s nothing this duo can’t do. We can all help Sue’s legacy to last forever if we do as she has shown us and continue to pay it forward.