BROOKSVILLE — The inspirational power of sports can sometimes be overlooked. But for Nancy Dorsey, it is a force she knows well.
Dorsey, 59, recently swept the three table tennis events she entered at the 18th annual Florida Senior Games in Estero. The wins gave her six total gold medals in the Senior Games since she began competing in the tournament in 2006. After every victory, she dedicates the win to her parents and husband.
Indirectly, those are the people responsible for her success at the table and where her life is right now.
When Dorsey was young, she and her parents would play table tennis as a family activity. It was a time in her life that she has always remembered fondly. That all ended when her parents divorced when Dorsey was only 10. She stopped playing the game.
She went on to become a teacher, and for 30 years taught special education in Indianapolis. She married Jim Dorsey, and the two built a good life together. They owned a vacation home in Brooksville, where they would visit from time to time.
On Dec. 23, 2002, Nancy Dorsey's life took a sudden and unexpected turn. During one trip to Florida, coming down Interstate 75 near Bushnell, the couple's sport utility vehicle flipped, and the only survivor was Nancy. She was in the hospital for almost two months.
"I broke my hand and had some other injuries," she said. "So I never knew whether or not I'd be able to do any sports again after that."
She returned to Indianapolis with little idea of how to go on with her life. Her husband was gone, as were the couple's two dogs. She decided to retire from teaching and move to Brooksville permanently. She has been here ever since.
It took a couple of years for her to sort things out. But one of the first activities she took up was tennis. Getting out onto the big court brought back memories of those table tennis games she played with her family as a child. She wanted to feel that way again.
"The two sports are quite similar, and I enjoyed them both," Dorsey said. "I just kept remembering how all of the kids in the neighborhood used to come over and play at our house."
In 2005, she began to play table tennis as a hobby, and success soon followed. After entering the Florida Senior Games the following year, she qualified for the National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky. Since her partner could not make the trip, she asked a fellow Hernando County resident, José Borgés, to fill that role. Before they knew it, the duo was in the championship final, where they swept their opponents for the title.
The six gold medals Dorsey has won, including three this year, gives her the fifth-most of any Senior Games athlete from Hernando County. Only Al Treichel (17), Richard Lowery (15), Larry Miller (14) and Borgés (eight) have more.
Dorsey credits a couple of things for helping her get to where she is now. First, the people she has met playing tennis and table tennis have been very supportive, she says. Second, the dedication she has gained from having confidence in her growing ability has gone a long way.
A little help from above doesn't hurt either. She still plays with the same paddle that her father gave her when she was only 8.
"I'll have to get rid of it soon," she said. "I put new rubber on it already, but now the blade itself is starting to disintegrate."
For the first time she can remember, Dorsey is standing on her own two feet and is ecstatic. She has two new dogs and recently adopted a kitten for the first time in her life. She knows that somewhere her husband is looking down on her with approval.
"Jim would have loved to still be alive and watch me doing something like this in my retirement," she said. "This is the first thing I have truly chosen to show myself that I can stand alone."