Drinking from her water bottle with shaking hands, Ashley Park (12) took a break before entering her big moment. In June, her years of rigorous training culminated in a final demonstration of her skills at the Donovan Tennis Strategies College Prospects Showcase at Yale University.
“I had never been that nervous before,” Ashley said. “I had to hold the bottle with two hands to keep the water from spilling. But watching the American players fight for the college coaches’ attention on and off the court and following them around to talk to them [made me] more aggressive.”
Tennis was a suggestion from her friend’s mom in sixth grade. Once Ashley picked up the racket, she was immediately attracted to the strong mentality the sport demanded and decided to become a student-athlete in college.
Now, as the first-singles at SIS, Ashley plays all year round. It is rare to see her tan fade. During the tennis season, she heads straight to another court after school practices for further training. During vacations, she practices from morning to evening. Yet, juggling sports and academics has always been a challenge for Ashley.
“I don’t have time to get tutored for my studies so I have to rely on myself and the resources that I already have,” Ashley said. “But because of this, I get to build independence, which will help me later, especially in college. I also don’t waste my time on social media, so there are fewer distractions for me. It’s true, though, that tennis takes away the social time I would have with my friends.”
Having competed to the best of her ability at the showcase, Ashley will be able to focus more on her academics, as she has received offers from several schools. Her personal coach, Hyung Geun Song, attributes her achievement to her persistent dedication and willingness to learn.
“Ashley learns and absorbs new skills faster than other tennis players, even though her athleticism is not super outstanding compared to them,” Coach Song said. “She’s a hard worker who always wants to improve and knows how to manage and plan her game not only on the court but also off the court.”
Despite the sacrifices she made as an athlete and the struggles with doubts of her ability to balance tennis and school, Ashley has no regrets about the path she chose.
“I wish I could have more free time, but my commitment will give me something to be proud of for a long time,” Ashley said. “I definitely encourage students to be athletes like me because there are a lot of advantages, such as better time management and constant mental focus.”