In 1983, Sally Ride’s trip to space took a giant leap for both women and young people at NASA. Ride, who died on Monday of pancreatic cancer at 61, became the first woman and at 32, the youngest American at the time to enter space.
One non-science interest in Ride's life almost blocker her career as an astronaut: Tennis. While in college, Ride nearly chose to pursue her tennis passion over her science passion.
Ride, a Los Angeles native, grew up with an interest in sports, especially tennis. And she could play. At age 10, Ride began being coached by Alice Marble, the former world No. 1 player who won the U.S. Open four times and Wimbledon twice.
Ride was awarded a partial scholarship in tenth grade to Los Angeles' prestigious Westlake School for Girls to play tennis. By her junior year of high school, Ride was the eighteenth-ranked girls junior player in the United States. The Ride family spent weekends taking young Sally across the country to compete in tournaments. According to Tamra Orr's "Sally Ride: The First Woman in Space," Ride even received personal encouragement to turn professional at age 22 by Billie Jean King (they are pictured together in 2006 at the California Hall of Fame).
After high school, Ride enrolled at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia. She won the Eastern Intercollegiate Women's Tennis Championships in both her two years at the school. Swarthmore did not have indoor courts at the time, causing Ride, hoping to make one last run at a tennis career, to leave the school before the end of her sophomore year.
Ride went back to Southern California, where she began training for a professional tennis career. Her tennis dream quickly returned to base before it could blast off. “I had a change of heart and decided to give tennis a serious try, and fortunately, that only last a couple of months,” Ride said in 'Portraits of Great American Scientists.' "I went back to school and that was pretty much it."
Ride's mother, Carol, believed Sally's will to be the best forced her to quit tennis.
"Sally simply couldn't make the ball go just where she wanted it to," Carol said in Sue Hurwitz's 'Sally Ride: Shooting for the Stars.' "And Sally wouldn't settle for anything short of excellence in herself."
Thus, she looked back to science for a chance to pursue excellence.
Ride returned to college life by transferring to Stanford. To remain in shape, she ran five miles a day, played rugby and participated in casual sporting events on campus. She graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in English and physics. Ride stayed in Palo Alto to be a graduate student and earned a master's degree and a Ph.D in physics. She joined NASA in 1978 and traveled to space on June 18, 1983, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger for mission STS-7.