By Tom Haley
STAFF WRITER - Published: September 8, 2011
CASTLETON — Sunday's No. 1 singles match between Castleton State College's Michelle Podnecky and Plattsburgh State's Rachel Hodnett was like a heavyweight championship fight with the competitors slugging it out, each refusing to buckle. Finally, Castleton's Michelle Podnecky willed herself to the marathon victory, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6, 6-4. It was a determined effort by Podnecky, but determination is something she has in quantities few other athletes possess.
It was never on display like it was earlier that week. Podnecky and her family were evacuated from their home by the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene. When she found out there was no way out of Bridgewater by car, she made it to practice on her bicycle, riding from Bridgewater to the Grand Slam tennis facility in Rutland.
"She rode over trails, over mountains and over devastated main roads," Castleton tennis coach Rob Purdy said.
"Michelle amazes me with her determination. Just like in a close match, she'll find a way."
The two-time North East Athletic Conference Player of the Year in tennis said it took her 2 1/2 hours to make the trip.
"I'm not surprised she would do that," Castleton ski coach Chris Eder said.
Eder has also seen her determination. It came to the fore in 2010 when she won the national championship in skicross, a relatively new NCAA event where competitors race side by side.
Some of the athletes in skicross were specialists in that event, but Podnecky is an alpine skier. Eder was concerned about her coming in contact with someone and getting injured.
"She told us, 'Don't worry about that. They aren't going to touch me.' And they didn't."
But for all her confidence and determination, Podnecky is shy and reluctant to be recognized for her accomplishments.
"She didn't want to get up on the podium. We had to push her a little," Eder said.
She was also reluctant to be interviewed for this story.
"I really didn't want that in the paper," she said of the bicycle odyssey.
Podnecky's plan when leaving Woodstock Union High School was to go to Castleton for a year and then transfer to a Division I school. She was eyeing the University of North Carolina.
Now, she is a senior with a glistening list of accomplishments.
"I just really liked the skiing. I stayed for that," Podnecky said.
She loves both sports and had an early start.
"I was probably 4 years old when I started playing tennis. I don't even know how old I was. Everyone in my family played," Podnecky said.
There were public courts in Bridgewater that nobody else played on so Podnecky polished her game as she grew up.
She feels fortunate to have had Paul Cohen and now Purdy as her tennis coaches at Castleton.
"They really know the game," she said.
Eder has been amazed at the way she approaches his sport.
"She's really on the edge. She is going to win or she's going to crash," Eder said. "She's a competitor."
Her dedication was taken her to new heights last season when she could not ski due to an injury.
"She was still at every practice and every race. She didn't have to be," Eder said. "She was like a student coach.
"It's not fun standing out there when it's cold and the wind is blowing."
Eder plays a little tennis himself and also hits the ball at Grand Slam.
"She's a dynamite tennis player," he said. "I stay away from her because she'd beat me."
She beats a lot of people. And she does it with a resolve that knows no bounds.
Ask the official stationed at a detour in Mendon who told her she couldn't get through on her bicycle journey. Ask Rob Purdy or Chris Eder. Ask Rachel Hodnett.