Pingpong Champ Prefers Payson

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Payson resident Isabella Sockrider is a serious athlete.

In Korea, where pingpong is a major sport and games are fast and furious, Sockrider became the Korean national champion at the age of 15 and held the title for five years. But when she first got interested in the sport, she encountered some resistance on the home front.

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Isabella Sockrider

"In Korea, parents don't get involved much in their kids sports," Sockrider said. "I started playing a little pingpong when I was in middle school and I became pretty good and made the team. That meant after school you practice.

"I'd come home late for dinner and my father was kind of annoyed by it, so sometimes he would tell mother to lock up the doors. (When I got home,) I would eat dinner separately.

"But then I started to win tournaments and my name was in the newspaper. As soon as my father saw it, he never said that again. He was very very supportive."

Later, she attended Yongsei University, only the second woman to be accepted by that prestigious school. ("Until the war, there were separate colleges for men and women," she said.)

Because the Japanese were occupying Korea at the time, Sockrider was required to learn the Japanese language. She also learned English, and at the age of 23 came to the United States to attend Ohio Northern University where she majored in political science.

While there she met and married a Japanese-American and decided to become an American citizen. She raised her three children and taught Korean at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.

She also developed a passion for competitive tennis.

Fast forward to 1996. Sockrider was single and living in Colorado Springs when a longtime friend introduced her to Donald Sockrider.

"I had given a part-time job to a Korean girl who then became a very good friend of the family," Donald said. "When my wife died she said, ‘Don't get married. I've got somebody in mind for you.'"

"She was my college classmate," added Isabella.

They met, fell in love and were married.

Sockrider moved to the Valley and was soon the top ranked singles tennis player in the state for her age division.

She also won firsts in the Fiesta Bowl tennis tournament two years in a row.

But the Valley heat was an issue with Sockrider, so a year ago she and Donald moved to the Rim country.

Now 72, Sockrider has given up competitive tennis, but she still plays doubles frequently at Rumsey Park.

This is her first small town experience, and she likes it just fine except for one thing.

"It is a little limited in the shopping," she said.

Speaking of shopping, the Sockriders make weekly treks to an ethnic food store in the Valley to stock up on noodles, won tons and kimchee -- "It's spoiled sauerkraut," Donald interjects. "It's very smelly."

The Sockriders visited Korea three years ago, and Donald said he was treated very well despite the news reports that relations between the U.S. and South Korea are as sour as kimchee.

"It's just some in the younger generation that feel that way," Isabella said. "They don't know about the Korean War and some propaganda from North Korea is influencing them. The younger generation never experienced a government that was against their freedom.

"Most Koreans are very friendly to Americans."

Ironically, Donald was a navigator in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and took part in bombing missions over Korea.

"Thankfully I missed Isabella," he said with a laugh.

Firmly ensconced in Payson after moving five times during the first five years they were married, the Sockriders look forward to their seventh anniversary on Oct. 5 -- and to staying put in Payson for the rest of their lives.

Isabella is actively involved with her church (United Methodist) and plans to spend a week in Farmington, N.M., with a dozen or so fellow church members, helping to build a church for Native Americans.

The Sockriders don't even own a pingpong table, and Isabella's athletic focus is on tennis and an occasional round of golf. But once, a few years ago, they visited Donald's son who did have one.

"Isabella was in high heels, but she easily beat my grandson who was in high school," Donald said.

"Then she played my son and my grandson came over to me and said, ‘I hope Isabella doesn't let him beat her.' I said, ‘Isabella isn't going to let anybody beat her' -- and she didn't."

Sockrider believes she is the only Korean living in Payson. When a friend recently inquired about the ‘Korean community' in the Rim country, Donald answered.

"Yes, it's our house and Isabella is the mayor."

Profile

Name: Isabella Sockrider

Occupation: Teacher of Korean language

Employer: Defense Language Institute - U.S. Government

Age: 72

Birthplace: Seoul, Korea

Family: Three grown children (two daughters, one son).

Personal motto: Be as honest as you can be.

Inspiration: Tennis pro Andre Agassi

Greatest feat: Raising my three kids.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Playing tennis and golf.

Three words that describe me best: Competitive, honest, faithful.

I don't want to brag but: I have a great husband.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Jesus Christ

Luxury defined: Eating out in a good restaurant.

Dream vacation spot: Playing golf in Korea. Their courses are beautiful.

Why Payson? It's a good climate with good air.

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