The Perfect Match

Tennis offers Paulette Mashaka both fitness and friendships.

Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner  |  Photographed by Jeff Berting

Watching television on a September day in 1973, Paulette Mashaka saw the woman who would become her inspiration. The young mother marveled as a female tennis player engaged in a heated battle with tennis champ Bobby Riggs. Billie Jean King won the match, and Paulette discovered a new passion.

Today the 68-year-old Carson resident continues to enjoy the sport—playing recreationally and in competitions. A regular at the West End Racquet and Health Club in Torrance, Paulette plays USTA (United States Tennis Association) League tennis and in the South Bay Marine League.

Work obligations curtailed her tennis from the mid-1980s until 2009, but in 2012 Palette competed in the Women’s Senior Nationals in La Jolla. Her opponents—who hadn’t experienced a lapse in their sport—proved formidable, and Paulette lost in the first round.

Nevertheless she competed again in 2013–this time playing doubles–and was ranked #25 in the nation in doubles for women in their 60s. Prior to that she won the women’s 60s for the American Tennis Association. (The organization originated in 1916, when African-Americans were barred from the existing national tennis association.)

Paulette has made it to finals in the Michael Chang Tennis Classic and won the USTA’s Huntington Beach Open Tournament. She is classified as a 4.0 player according to USTA ratings, which begin at 1 and increase by a half-point up to 7.

After tearing her meniscus in 2013, Paulette decided she would forgo singles and play only doubles. Currently she plays three or four days a week. For Paulette, however, playing tennis is less about winning or losing and more about making the effort.

“Tennis reminds me of the martial arts,” she says. “You become one with the ball. It’s all about trying to perfect your shots, trying to perfect your strokes. You can never be perfect, but you can work toward that goal.”

She also enjoys the social aspects of the sport. “You meet the greatest people playing tennis,” she says.

Paulette brings a similar enthusiasm to her work with elementary school students in the Long Beach Unified School District. Although she retired from teaching in 2011, she now works for the district part-time as a reading intervention specialist.

“Something wonderful happened the other day. One of my students said to me, ‘Mrs. Mashaka, I used to hate reading. Now I love it.’”

Paulette loves reading as well. She belongs to a book club with her tennis friends from the Arthur Ashe Center at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center and has a “two-person book club” with her daughter.

Married to her college sweetheart, Dasol, Paulette has three grown children and five grandchildren who range in age from 1 to 10. Her oldest grandchild plays tennis, much to her delight. He will attend tennis camp in Barcelona this summer, and Paulette and Dasol will meet up with him there. The couple will also attend the U.S. Open in New York in celebration of their 50th anniversary.

 

Along with their love of tennis, Paulette and Dasol share a passion for travel. They visited destinations including France, Greece, Switzerland, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya, where they went on safari and met Maasai warriors. They have lived in a variety of locations including Missouri, Texas and Saudi Arabia, where Paulette taught tennis to young girls from a wealthy Saudi family.

“You can travel all over the world,” she says, “and when you meet people who play tennis, you have so much in common.”


Paulette’s Year in Health

Weekday Itinerary

  • Stretching and leg- strengthening exercises
  • Breakfast
  • Work at school
  • Tennis at the West End Club
  • Dinner
  • Prepare the following day’s lessons for school
  • Bed

Nutrition

Breakfast: whole wheat toast, Raisin Bran with walnuts and berries, orange juice

Lunch: salad bowl or turkey deli sandwich

Dinner: chicken or turkey, greens and baked yams

Snacks: fruit

Foods She Avoids

Beef and pork

Guilty Pleasure

Bacon, which she eats for breakfast once a week, along with eggs and pancakes

Next Goal

To play again (and get further) in the Women’s Nationals in La Jolla

Inspiration

Billie Jean King, whom Paulette admires for “her fortitude, her love of the sport and for what she did for women’s tennis and women’s equality. She made tennis the greatest sport there is for women. Women in tennis make more money and are more well-known than in any other sport in the world.”

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