In 2020 the world changed.
For all of us.
For me, the pandemic came with a lot of questions.
After our college tennis season was canceled, I had decisions to make.
“What will the rest of 2020 look like for me?”
“Do I go back home to Australia?”
“What’s going to happen with college athletics moving forward?”
From that awful spring to now, much has happened.
I transferred schools.
I quit tennis.
I came back.
I won the Big South Conference with my team.
I fulfilled one of my college tennis dreams of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Crazy and unexpected — no other words come to mind.
My collegiate career has been something else, but the biggest surprise is that it even exists. When I was a junior player climbing up the ranks, the last thing on my mind was playing college tennis.
My introduction to tennis came in Australia, so I didn’t have a good grasp of what college sports in the US could even offer me.
I was born in Kenya as a result of my father’s work with Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations, lived my first few years in Croatia and Serbia, and then eventually moved to Australia at a very young age, which is where I eventually settled down. So, my main perspective regarding college tennis was Australian University tennis, and this level was subpar. And it wasn’t where you’d go play if you’re serious about pursuing a tennis career.
And I was serious.
Ever since my family introduced me to the sport of tennis when I was a young teen, I fell in love with it. I quickly developed a dream of taking the sport to the highest level.
At 13 years old, I was lucky to meet a generous man, who shared the mutual dream of playing professional tennis but never had the opportunity due to poor finances. He recognized my talent, and wanted to give me this opportunity he never had by becoming my sponsor. He was absolutely instrumental to my development. He pushed me and helped me see a future I always dreamed of. I owe my entire tennis career to him.
In general, I’ve been lucky to have some really good coaches throughout my early career — and great coaches really make a difference. These coaches would not have been financially possible without my sponsor, so I am lucky for that also.
As I improved and set my sights on a professional career, Division I programs began calling, but I was not interested at the time.
Why was I ignoring DI schools? Because at the time, I had this kind of mindset: “I want to be a pro, and college is for amateurs!”
Well, little did I know that college sports in the US is very different from University tennis in Australia.
See, in Australia, it’s something you just sign up for and do for fun.
I was just lacking perspective, you know?
But then, I started seeing top Aussie prospects going to college in the States, with fully funded scholarships. So, I thought, “Maybe I need to check out these programs.”
I was in for a pleasant surprise when I saw the quality of play in college. It was very high and a great opportunity to get an education and push yourself athletically. An opportunity I once scoffed at now seemed ideal.
I researched and looked at my options and decided to attend the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where I could gain maximum exposure amongst some of the most elite tennis colleges in the USA within this region.
It was phenomenal. The faculty, student body, and campus were great. I was loving life as a new member of this community. Unfortunately, things with my coach weren’t in sync. Nothing against the coach, we just didn’t work as a fit. I wondered if this was the place where I could grow and accomplish what I wanted on the tennis court.
And then, Covid hit!
While it was an absolutely terrible experience for us, it did have some silver linings. It allowed me to take a step back and reflect — to take a look at things and see what I could be doing differently.
I was not satisfied with my collegiate sports career, and I made the difficult decision to move back home to Australia and walk away.
I left the competitive side of the sport and taught instead, as I’ve always had a knack for coaching.
I quickly built up my business and was a full-time instructor.
But once things returned back to some sort of normalcy in the US, and college sports were happening again, I did miss the competition.
So, I asked myself if I should give this another shot?
I knew things would have to be different. I’d have to change schools and start over again, which can be challenging.
So much has happened in just a couple of years.
With the help of high profile tennis people like David Costa, I was able to look at my opportunities and pick the best one for me.
I had some excellent options, but ultimately I chose Presbyterian College — a place where I could excel on and off the tennis court with the right coach and the perfect balance of school and athletics.
Thanks to this decision, I experienced one of my favourite joys as a tennis player, winning the Big South Conference Tournament and making it to the NCAAs.
I’ve watched a lot of videos of college teams celebrating their successes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube before, but there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself. The thrill of victory, embracing your teammates — man, there’s nothing like this sense of complete accomplishment from all the hard work you’ve done throughout your season.
I’ll forever remember this moment with my teammates at PC, and I hope I feel this sense of accomplishment again in my career.
They say your college years are the formative years of your life. They help shape you into who you will become. Obviously, I’m still in them, so I don’t know if that’ll be true for me, but what I will say is I’ve learned so much going through my college years already; hope, joy, victory, defeat, pain, regret, and even a pandemic.
It’s been an unexpected journey, but I’m better for it.
I think we all are.
Thank you, PC, for giving me another shot at this and taking a chance on me.