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Schriever Major one of nation's best

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Maj. Tina Hagen, commander of the Adversary Training Flight, 26th Aggressor Squadron, is ranked as one of the top-10 women racquetball players in the nation for her age group (35-40). This year she claimed runner-up honors at the U.S. National Tournament in Houston, Texas and won her age division at the World Senior event in Albuquerque, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Prater)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Maj. Tina Hagen, commander of the Adversary Training Flight, 26th Aggressor Squadron, is ranked as one of the top-10 women racquetball players in the nation for her age group (35-40). This year she claimed runner-up honors at the U.S. National Tournament in Houston, Texas and won her age division at the World Senior event in Albuquerque, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Prater)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Maj. Tina Hagen remembers her first experience with racquetball. Her father, Dennis Bragdon, brought her to a court, broke out the racquets and taught her the rules.

Her competitive nature took over from there.

"I was only eight, but I wanted to beat him," she said. "So I took lessons and started playing with my friends. That didn't help much then, but eventually I was able to beat him."

The multi-sport athlete never considered racquetball "her sport" until years later, even during her tenure as a Cadet at the Air Force Academy. Her Academy team competed in a region along with schools from Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona, but Major Hagen still considered racquetball to be "just a hobby."

It wasn't until she was stationed at Kirtland AFB, N.M. that her love for the sport awakened.

She went from competing as a "B" player, to competing as an "Open" player, the highest level for amateurs, in the span of a year.

"It was shocking," Major Hagen said. "I didn't think it could happen that quickly. Actually, the key motivator at the time was I wanted to play doubles with this good-looking guy who was an Open player. I knew he wouldn't play with me at the level I was at, so I got a coach and took some lessons."

And she began winning tournaments -- at each level she progressed, she kept winning.

She began playing in "Open" tournaments, in the 1993-94 season. She traveled and played every other weekend at many tournaments in Albuquerque and in others around New Mexico, and performed so well that she qualified to play in state and regional tournaments.

Throughout the years since that break-through 1994 season, she advanced her military career and became the mother of two children.

Currently, the commander of the Adversary Training Flight, 26th Space Aggressor Squadron, is ranked as one of the top-10 women players in the nation in the 35 to 40 age group. And as the Colorado State Champion in each of the past two years, she could be ranked even higher, if only she played in more tournaments.

This year she claimed runner-up honors at the U.S. National tournament in Houston, Texas during May, and won her age division at the World Senior event in Albuquerque, NM.

She's also been a member of every Air Force racquetball team since 1995, a spot players earn by winning at the Interservice tournament each year.

For anyone questioning her competitive spirit, not even impending motherhood could stop her from competing in the 2001 U.S. National Tournament. She claimed third place at that competition - while she was six-months pregnant.

"I kept having to tell myself not to dive," she said of her 2001 tournament experience.

Tournament victories aside, Major Hagen enjoys the sport for more than the accolades it has brought.

"I enjoy it for the people," she said. "Every sport has its own culture, but you won't find a more diverse culture of people. "As you get older you realize there are a lot of fun people involved who play and really get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It truly is a lifetime sport."

She enjoys the many advantages the sport offers: year round playability, the ease at finding opponents and the gender-neutral aspect of competition.

"It's really a great equalizer," she said. "Until you get to the really upper levels, like men's Pro divisions, men really have no advantage, she said. "Two people of relative competence can play each other and both can get a great workout."

For anyone interested in taking up the sport, Major Hagen recommends visiting the gym at Peterson Air Force Base.

"There are a wonderful group of people there, on all levels," she said. "There's a weekend crowd, a lunch crowd, an evening crowd, lots of folks who enjoy playing."