On the Rebound
In March 1985 "Darling Carling," as she was called, was ranked No. 8 in the world and seemed destined to claim Chris Evert's title as America's tennis sweetheart. The following year the champagne-blond daughter of one of Canada's richest couples (on her mother's side, Carling's ale; on her father's, sports franchises, a newspaper and a TV station) began to branch out. She did some work as an Eileen Ford model and got her own line of JC Penney sportswear.
Inexplicably, however, her tennis game came unstrung. Bassett's ranking started tailing off in mid-'85, and by 1989, when she left the tour, it had fizzled to No. 158. Marriage and the birth of her first child had slowed her down, but the central reason for her decline remained, until now, a secret to all but her closest friends and family. Carling Bassett had become a victim of bulimia.
"At 15, I wasn't heavy by any means," she says, "but I gained a lot of weight; I went from 11 to 126. At 14, 15, 16, your body starts to mature, you start to put on puppy fat. You want to look good all the time. You start feeling pressure."
Bassett had been on the tour six months when another player, an older woman whom she will not identify, showed the 16-year-old how to put her fingers down her throat and instantly get rid of all those calories. Soon, she says, the habit had taken her captive. "It becomes part of your life, like smoking," says Bassett. "Or it's like being an alcoholic. It's so easy to get into and so hard to get out of. I hated myself that I couldn't stop."
Although Carling maintains that she was keeping her weight up during her illness, her mother, Susan Bassett-Klauber, remembers otherwise: "She became skeletal. You'd try to force food on her, and she'd just throw up. We screamed and yelled." Carling kept her disorder hidden from members of the tour and even from Robert Seguso, a six-time Davis Cup doubles player whom she married in September 1987.
She did, however, give him reason to suspect that all was not well. One evening earlier in the year, the two were out dancing at a club in Boca Raton near their present home. Bassett remembers having two beers and one puff of marijuana. "I started flipping out," she says. "I couldn't feel my hands. I couldn't feel my arms.' Robert took me outside, and I started hyperventilating. He took me to the hospital. I thought I was going to die, my metabolism was so screwed up."
"I really didn't understand it at all," says Seguso, now a businessman involved in developing a multi-sports training center in Florida. "I was so immature, I really didn't know anything." At the hospital Bassett was treated with Valium for her panic attack and released. The close call was not lost on her. "It takes something like that to scare you," she says. With the help of her husband, to whom she revealed her bulimia that evening, she started to fight back against her affliction. "I never even went to a doctor," she says. "I came out and said, 'I have to stop this.' But you can't recover if you're alone. I never let myself be alone. It was the hardest fight of my life."
Says Robert: "I helped as much as I could. I was by her side the whole time. But it was her. She pretty well turned herself around."
She was helped, no doubt, by her first pregnancy, with her son, Holden, born in March 1988, and the need to provide not only for herself but also for her baby. She sailed through the pregnancy without morning sickness, but she wasn't so lucky while carrying Carling, her daughter, two years later. Throughout much of that pregnancy, she threw up ever day. "It was a nightmare," says her mother. "She was in terror. She thought it was a recurrence."
Nowadays, says Carling, she has changed radically from the nutrition-ignorant teenager she was. "I've gone to the other extreme," she says. "I've read everything about nutrition. I'm a big believer in fresh vegetables. I know everything that goes on in my body."
And what about her tennis comeback? "I'm going to give myself a good test on the tour," says Carling, "not just two or three months." Robert concurs.
"She's probably in the best shape and as strong as she's ever been, even when she was eighth in the world," he says. "I think she can definitely get back in the Top 20."
DON SIDER in Boca Raton
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