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Power Play

Chelsea Piers Connecticut

photograph by William Taufic

The doors to Chelsea Piers Connecticut (CPCT) are finally open. No more articles about construction headaches, rumors about new coaches signing on, or theories about what the facility will bring to Stamford. The chain-link fence around the facility is down and we can finally see what the fuss has been all about. It's been worth the wait.

This 400,000-square-foot athletic center, soon to be the pride of Stamford, is jam-packed with state-of-the-art amenities—a twenty-two lane Olympic-sized pool, twelve squash courts, seven tennis courts, a volleyball-basketball center with room for six courts, a 100-yard indoor turf field with a track around it, two ice rinks, a cycling studio, a 5,000-square-foot fitness area, and a 14,000-square-foot gymnastics floor.

The extra features are first class, too. There is an organic Stonyfield Farm café, the first in Connecticut, a twenty-four-foot-high rock wall, five batting cages, party rooms, a family aquatics area and a cheery childcare center. And for folks who play hard—and feel it—Stamford Hospital will open a satellite campus staffed with orthopedic specialists. But what puts this field-of-dreams center in a league of its own is what makes it different from its sister in Manhattan. Just look at its team of coaches, carefully assembled like a sports franchise. Made up of stars and consistent workhorses, they offer complementary skill sets that promise to deliver a winning formula.

“I looked for certain things, a real passion for the sport and a vision and excitement for what this place can be,” says Mollie Marcoux, CPCT’s executive director. Clearly it's no accident then that the names of CPCT’s sports program directors read like a hall of fame roster. Consider the impressive ladies who will lead racquet sport programs. There is Natalie Grainger, a native South African who is currently America’s, and formerly the world’s, top-ranked squash player. Gigi Fernandez earned her place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame with achievements that include a No. 1 world ranking and two Olympic gold medals.

And the talent pool runs deeper. Aquatics director Jamie Barone trained under legendary Olympic coach Bob Bowman, and holds a national relay title. Scott Bulkley brings his talent as a University of North Carolina lacrosse star, former pro and highly regarded Greenwich High boys LAX coach to the field. Triathlon coach Scott Berlinger has led his team to four national titles and is anxious to repeat his success here. Rinks director Matt Stack, a former NHL minor league player, is an elite coach and pro scout.

Meet the A-Team!

Gigi Fernandez
Director of Tennis

After moving recently from Florida, Gigi was too preoccupied getting her family settled in Stamford to notice the hoopla surrounding the construction of CPCT. Friends in the tennis world who ran into Gigi at an out-of-state tournament were the ones who suggested the two-time Olympic Gold medalist check the place out. “Wow! What a place!” was her first impression. But it was the state-of-the-art daycare center that convinced the mother of three-year-old twins, Karson and Madison, to join the CPCT team: “I saw that and I knew it was going to be a great fit,” says Gigi. “My one trepidation about working again was the kids. But I can be there; fully focused on doing my job, knowing they are close by if they need me, which is amazing to me.”

Besides, Gigi admits, she could probably use a little break from child-rearing: “I think three, quite frankly, is a little bit harder than what they call the terrible twos.” Gigi has spent the past few months getting in the swing of things at CPCT, where she’s intently focused on building a highly competitive tennis program. She’s been selecting a staff of top-shelf pros, connecting CPCT with a women’s Westchester/Fairfield County interclub league and shaping a junior development program intended as a pathway for talented kids to take it to the next level. To that championship end, the former University of South Florida coach and winner of seventeen Grand Slam doubles titles offers a rare professional pedigree. “I have that experience as a coach and a player, which I think is helpful to kids who are playing competitively, or want to play in college and even beyond that, maybe on the tour.”

But tennis isn’t so serious for everyone, and Gigi—who started playing in her native Puerto Rico after receiving lessons as a seventh-birthday gift—intends to help socially competitive players up their game too. So the ladies in the Thursday night doubles league she’s planning might want to tune up their racquets: Gigi has already committed to playing the winner of a league ladder championship with a fellow CPCT pro. (The safe money is on Team Gigi.)

On Living in Stamford:
“It’s the first time I’ve lived anywhere with seasons, and I’m loving the change of pace.”

Career High:
“Winning my Olympic medals was the coolest thing. It’s cooler to most people than winning Wimbledon. There’s also a sense of pride that I’ve done something for my country.”

She’s Mastered:
Two Serves:
“I was a pretty good volleyball player and almost played for the Puerto Rican team.”

On Spotting the Next Gigi:
“I just know when I look at a kid playing if they have that ‘it’ factor. I was at a club not long ago where I saw a boy playing and I went out of my way to find his parents and told them, ‘Now this kid has a talent you should really develop.’”                          

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