Pink ribbon: Navratilova's cancer recalls local near-death experience
Former Charlottesville-area resident and tennis legend Martina Navratilova, 53, has breast cancer, the New York Times reports. The cancer was discovered in February, and she'll undergo radiation in May.
“I call this my personal 9/11 because I realized my life would never be the same,” she tells the Times.
However, this is not Navratilova's first brush with death, at least according to a 1992 book which tells a harrowing tale from Albemarle County.
In Lady Magic, basketball star Nancy Lieberman alleges that nearly 30 years ago Navratilova dodged a gunshot fired by her then lover, writer Rita Mae Brown, at the house shared by the couple just west of Charlottesville.
Lieberman, now an ESPN/ABC sports commentator, details in the autobiography how she received a hysterical phone call from Navratilova, who was crying out, "Rita Mae shot me. Rita Mae shot me."
As Lieberman relates the tale, it was a spring afternoon in 1981 when Brown became jealous of her younger housemate's budding relationship with Lieberman. Brown allegedly pulled a gun–- a .38 caliber, one of the more powerful class of handguns–- on the then 24-year-old Czechoslovakia-born tennis superstar.
According to Lieberman, Navratilova was attempting to flee from the house they shared in the upscale Flordan subdivision. Navratilova allegedly pushed Brown out of the way and raced to her BMW733i–- conveniently parked in the circular drive with the keys in the ignition.
But as Navratilova attempted to speed away, the engine died. As she got the car moving, an explosion rang out. Lieberman claims that the bullet tore through the passenger-side head rest and shattered the windshield, which sent shards of glass into Navratilova's face.
The eventual 9-time Wimbledon singles champion suffered facial cuts but was otherwise unscathed.
Currently on a publicity tour for her latest book, Cat of the Century, Brown left a phone message with a reporter referring to her own published version of what happened.
In Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, published in 1997, Brown asserts that the loaded weapon actually belonged to Navratilova, and that on the fateful day, Brown picked it up and told her to get rid of it.
"I often wonder if it was a guilty conscience or if she thought I'd fill her full of holes like Swiss cheese," writes Brown. "She hit me. I hit back."
As the soon-to-be former lovers pummeled each other, Navratilova allegedly screamed for her gun, and Brown refused to hand it over. Navratilova fled to the car.
"I blew out the back window of the BMW," Brown admits. "Rarely have I been that angry. But angry and heartbroken as I was, if I'd wanted to hit her, she'd be six feet under."
Neither the Albemarle County sheriff nor chief of police could recall ever hearing of the incident, and neither written account mentions anything about calling law enforcement.
Today, nearly three decades later, learning of Navratilova's breast cancer, Brown tells a Hook reporter in a voice-mail, "I think she'll pull through. I know she'll pull through."
As for that fateful night, recounting it, says Brown, "will make me so much more fascinating than I really am."