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Multi-talented Fallbrook woman coaches and teaches with style

A Fallbrook woman has blended poetry, the arts and her athletic acumen to leave a mark in just her first season as a Temecula girls’ varsity tennis coach.

There’s also an internationally-tinged love story etched between the lines of Lisa Ratnavira’s life.

Ratnavira moved into the local sports limelight during a precedent-setting season that unfolded in recent months at Linfield Christian School in Temecula.

In a transition year as Ratnavira began to take over for Becky Ness, the girls’ team netted a 19-1 season. That placed the Linfield squad among the tops in the state, bringing the team its first undefeated league season and just its second entrance into the CIF semi-finals.

The team’s achievements have splashed some bright colors onto Ratnavira’s palette, but the underlying hues were layered there as a teacher, traveler, poet, student and helper to her husband, an internationally-known nature and wildlife artist.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Ratnavira, 40, said in a recent interview. “What you love infuses you with passion.”

A resident of the Fallbrook area for more than 20 years, she taught at Zion Lutheran School in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She later taught at Christ the King Lutheran School and worked as a substitute teacher in the Fallbrook and Bonsall school districts.

The poems she wrote as Lisa Warner Albright, beginning at age four, plumbed her family and cultural roots and explored many other realms.

She has contributed to a variety of literary journals that include “Poet,” “Bereavement,” “Lucidity” and “Limestone Circle.” She has participated in numerous workshops, and selections of her works have been published in “Passion Takes Three,” “Embracing Artemis” and “Traveling with Pen and Brush.”

Through a mutual Fallbrook friend, she met Gamini Ratnavira about 12 years ago. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, he is a self-taught artist who arrived in the Fallbrook area about 23 years ago.

They worked together on an elephant conservation project while he coached youth soccer and she taught, played tennis and was involved in other activities. Before long, Lisa began helping Gamini market his art on the Internet and at his gallery near Live Oak Park. They married five years after they met.

“He’s amazing,” she said. “I just fell in love with his work.”

The couple, which has been married seven years, has three children in their blended family. They have traveled extensively to paint and write. Those trips have taken them to Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Panama, the Bahamas and other exotic locations. She oversees the Hidden Forest Art Gallery and Nature Center, where he paints and shows his works.

His painting and sculptures, as well as her poetry, can also be seen at http://www.gaminiratnavira.com.

More than a year ago, she heard about an upcoming opening in Linfield’s tennis program. Becky Ness planned to step down after four years as the girls’ varsity tennis coach. Ness planned to end her coaching stint after her second daughter to play on the team graduated.

Ratnavira learned of the opening from Larry Jestice, the owner and pro at San Luis Rey Downs Tennis Club in Bonsall. Jestice, a former tennis doubles pro who has operated clubs in four states, has assisted Linfield’s team for years and he knew Ratnivira and her children from their membership at the Bonsall club.

Linfield’s team also draws upon the talents of fitness coach Brett Ackerman, a former college tennis player who is training to become a firefighter.

Ratnivira said she applied for the coaching post with some trepidation. At the time, she was well into her studies to obtain a master’s degree in coaching, athletic administration and sports science from Concordia University in Irvine.

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “It was a great opportunity. Tennis has become my absolute passion. It’s a huge outlet for me.”

Ratnavira seemed a perfect fit for the next phase of Linfield’s tennis future and she was hired as the girls’ varsity coach.

“She brings a lot to the table,” said Drake Charles, Linfield’s athletic director. “She’s very energetic. She brings a lot of energy to everything she does.”

Ness and Ratnivira served as co-coaches in the recently-concluded season. Ratnivira, Jestice and Ackerman will join forces in the spring to coach Linfield’s boys’ varsity tennis team.

Ratnivira also works as a substitute teacher at Linfield when her coaching, art gallery and college student schedules permits. She expects to receive her master’s degree from Concordia in May.

She has worked to leave her mark on an already-solid squad by running laps with her players and promoting team play and sportsmanship.

“They’re dedicated girls. They always bring me their best,” she said. “I’m right behind them (running). I’m last, but I’m there.”

Having capped a her first year as a coach with an 11-7 loss in Canoga Park on Nov. 19 and a post-season party, Ratnavira said she’s already looking ahead to next year.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I’m really enjoying it.”

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