By Jessica Hall, special to USTA.com
For every athlete, injuries arise that can alter careers, such the one suffered by USTA Northern 18 & Over women’s 3.0 team captain Kristin Heywood: a full meniscus tear of her right knee after playing with a full Division I soccer scholarship at the University of Utah for two seasons.
The setback would force the Rochester, Minn., transplant to take on a sport she had never played before in her life – tennis – with the challenging transition from the pitch to paved hard courts allowing the 35-year-old to remain active.
“I’m incredibly competitive,” said Heywood, who rehabilitated the injury for nearly a year through range-of-motion exercises. “The knee, it was shredded to the point where it was bone-on-bone. My doctor told me that I should never play soccer again or else I could have arthritis.”
In 2009, Heywood moved from Seattle to Rochester when her husband began his career in administration at the Mayo Clinic. In a new environment, tennis provided Heywood with an outlet for her competitive nature while also helping her to make friends in a new city.
“I didn’t know anybody, so I thought [tennis] would be a great way to meet people, even though I had never played before,” Heywood said. “I took up the sport hoping to meet friends, which I have. I have a team full of my closest friends.”
For Heywood and her fellow teammates, the opportunity to participate at the 2013 USTA League National Championships in Tucson, Ariz., is something the close-knit Northern squad embraces. She is their leader by example: a tough, focused competitor who strengthened what was once an injury so debilitating that walking was nearly impossible to the point where now only a small brace is needed.
“Feels fine,” said Heywood, after just completing her second singles match of the day. “It might be a bit sore tonight, but I’ll be ready to go again.”
“We are here to hopefully get some wins under our belts,” added Heywood. “I feel that we have a really good team and it’s great to be together. Coming to Nationals is an experience that not everybody gets to do every year so we’re excited. This team has been playing together for four years so it’s a great to get out of town together as friends and teammates.”