If it wasn’t for the women at the YWCA, Lisa Fraser-Gilmore might never have become a three-time world handball champion or a member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Back in 1985, the then-21-year-old was working at the Y when she saw some women playing handball in the Manitoba Closed Championship that was being held there.
“I was just standing there watching and saying, ‘What are they doing? Where’s the racquet?’ ” she recalls. “Then I went out the next weekend (to try it). They showed me how to play and I got hooked on it and kept going.”
It was the guidance of one woman in particular – Helen Friesen – that really got her going.
“It was pretty generic instruction by a bunch of the ladies but she really took me under her wing and played with me a lot,” she said. “That was kind of cool. I got good fast and I started beating all those ladies soon. Nobody wanted to play me but Helen kept playing me.”
Fraser-Gilmore had her first big success in 1987. She won the Women’s B Singles and B Doubles titles at the U.S. 4-Wall Nationals. That success in her first major international championship brought her to the attention of American handball legend Rosemary Bellini, the only woman to be inducted into the U.S. Handball Hall of Fame. The pair teamed up to win the Women’s Open Doubles title at the 1987 U.S. 3-Wall Championships.
It was to be the first of her 10 U.S. Open Doubles and five U.S. Open Singles crowns over her long handball career. She also won eight Canadian Open Singles titles with the first coming in 1991 and the last in 2003. As well, she also won 10 women’s pro classic events over the last 13 years.
At the World Championships, she won the Women’s Open Doubles titles in 1988 and 2003 and the Women’s Open Singles crown in 1994. As a result, she was awarded the Order of the Buffalo Hunt in 1994 and the 2002 YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Sport and Active Living.
Things have come full circle for Fraser-Gilmore. The pupil has become the teacher, inspiring a new group of young women to take up the game she loves so much.
“I’ve helped with the game but maybe not as much as I should have with the juniors,” said Fraser-Gilmore, a high school physical education teacher. “I got some girls involved when I was teaching at Balmoral Hall and I’m happy to say that most of those girls are still playing.”