Starting From Love: Gloria Son
In our new online series, Starting From Love, we’ll talk to members of the USTA Eastern tennis community about their history with the sport and why they think the game is the perfect match. For our debut feature, we speak with Gloria Son, a Colorado native and West Point graduate who captained the women’s tennis team during her time at the service academy. She’s currently helping coach juniors at MatchPoint Tennis in Goshen, N.Y. before heading off to El Paso, Texas, where she’ll be stationed beginning in January 2021.
When did you first pick up a racquet?
Son: I started playing tennis when I was eight years old. I was always a soccer player–my family was very big into sports. I started playing soccer because I have an older brother, and I did everything that he did. When he was introduced to tennis, I decided that was where I needed to go too.
Kids have so many different options for physical activity. Why did you specifically want to keep playing tennis at that age?
Son: When I first started playing [for fun], I think my dad saw this fiery, competitive side of me. So he actually put me in tournaments [right away], rather than [start with] lessons. I didn’t even know how to keep track of the score. All I knew was I loved performing, I loved the adrenaline, I loved playing in front of people.
What do you recall about your junior career [in the USTA Intermountain section]?
Son: I loved playing in juniors—I could talk about it forever. [Laughs.] I love overcoming challenges, like when you get into a tournament and then you realize “Ugh, I have the No. 1 seed in the first round”. You know they’re a great player, you know they’re ranked high. But you go out there, and you’re able to have that match where you can overcome that barrier and you’re able to win. I think that really motivates you to keep going. It’s so similar to life. I tell people that life is exactly like tennis. Even at West Point, there are so many different challenges that you face head on. You think that you can’t do it. But then you get in there and then you overcome that challenge. That’s what motivates me and inspires me to keep going.
What motivated you to continue playing competitively in college?
Son: Honestly, tennis was all I knew. Tennis was all I liked. Academics were also very important, but I felt like tennis was my safe haven. It was what gave me confidence, it was what helped me hold my head high when I was walking through the halls at school—just because I put so much time and effort into it and I loved it so much. Again, at that age, I think confidence comes from what you’re good at, and I didn’t want to give it up yet. I wanted to see what college tennis had for me.
Did you always plan to attend a service academy like West Point?
Son: I first heard about West Point because a friend of mine went there to play on the men’s team. That’s what sparked my interest. And then I brought it up to my dad. I was like, “Hey dad, I’m looking at this school called West Point…do you know much about it?” Coming from a family that has no military background, I didn’t know what to expect. Surprisingly, my dad was thrilled. He told me that he actually applied to West Point, and he was getting ready to go. He was a wrestler, so he was going for wrestling. But then at the end of his senior year he actually hurt his back, so they took away his appointment. And I didn’t even know about this!
Son: Yeah! He’d never even brought it up, because I don’t think he knew any of his kids wanted to go into the military. So when he told me this, I was like, “Oh my gosh, it is so meant to be.” I contacted West Point Coach [Paul] Peck, and then I was able to attend the Summer Leadership Experience (SLE), which is a two-week program at West Point for high schoolers. From the moment I stepped on campus, I fell in love. It’s absolutely stunning. And this sounds silly to say, but we learned how to march, and the [spirit of that], of [working as] one overall unit with the people around you…you could just feel that energy, that camaraderie around the entire campus. And when I felt that, I said, “This is what I need to be a part of.”
You played at all four years and eventually served as team captain. How would you describe your college playing experience, particularly for a service academy like West Point?
Son: Coach Peck always emphasized every year how each season is a journey. He’d sit us down and say, “Ladies, this season is going to be a journey”. And you know, of course, we’d get the same spiel every year and we’d be like “We get it, we get it.” But looking back, it was actually quite the journey! [Laughs]. Overall, I realized: Tennis is just tennis. The collegiate level might be different, but tennis is just tennis. What made it a different experience was the name we were competing for. Each athletic team at West Point has officer representatives. They come to matches to support us, learn the game, and provide mentorship for our [future] army careers. After all, we’re not going to West Point to become professional athletes. We’re not going there to become professional businessmen and businesswomen. We’re going there to become army officers.
Speaking of: Your season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’ve since graduated. What’s next for you? Will you keep playing tennis?
Son: I’ll be heading to Basic Officer Leaders Course [BOLC]. I’m going to be an engineer, so there they’ll teach us what we do. After that I’ll be headed to El Paso, where I’ll be stationed for 2-3 years. After that, I don’t want to say I’m going to leave the army, I don’t want to say I’m going to stay in. It all depends on my experience, but so far I’m loving everything that West Point has provided me. [As for tennis], there was one other senior on our team who’s my best friend. So when the pandemic hit, that was really upsetting for us because it was the end of our competitive tennis career. We definitely wanted to play against Navy again, we definitely wanted to go to the NCAA championships again. But overall, I know that tennis is an amazing sport. I’ll still play recreationally. Coach Peck does a great job of maintaining a relationship with his [former] players. Everybody’s still playing. Even if they’re in the army, they all try to find a court and hit with each other. So I’ll definitely be traveling with my racquet everywhere I go. Whatever post I am, whether I’m in Germany, whether I’m in Korea, whether I’m in Texas, whatever, I will always bring my tennis racquets along.
USTA Eastern is always looking to shine a light on our vibrant, diverse tennis community. If you would like to suggest someone who would be a great fit for Starting From Love, please email us here.