Life’s Journey Through Tennis
With Ellen Markowitz
This Pride Month we are celebrating with the entire LGBTQ+ community in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. We salute those whose talents and commitment help grow tennis at every level while making our sport a better and more inclusive environment.
Dr. Ellen Markowitz, tennis enthusiast and coach in Charlottesville Virginia, describes growing up in a very sports-oriented household, where the passion for sports was undeniable. From attending Ellen’s tennis tournaments to her brother's sports games and practices, the Markowitz family was very busy during the weekends.
It was at 8-years-old when Ellen picked up her first tennis racquet. “I started playing tennis when I went to an overnight camp in the Adirondacks. I loved every minute of my all-girls camp experience, and I particularly remember hitting for many hours on the backboards at camp” said Markowitz. Her first tennis coach was “Mr. Chris,” Chris Connell. “I am so grateful for his help and his own love of tennis, which inspired me. I loved the feeling of the ball on my racquet, and the mesmerizing feeling of being in flow it gave me at a young age,” said Markowitz.
Ellen continues to draw inspiration from tennis. Her tennis career continued all throughout high school as well as into her college years. She was on the Yale University Women’s tennis team and continues to make memories with her teammates. “My Yale tennis teammates and coach (Alice Tym) are in touch daily on a text thread, and we get together almost yearly for reunions,” Markowitz shared.
USTA Mid-Atlantic had a chance to connect with Ellen Markowitz on how her journey with tennis has impacted her life. This week we are featuring a first-person essay by Markowitz that highlights her journey.
Tennis was always an important part of my life. In fact, tennis is probably the most important part of my life. Personally, professionally, and socially, tennis has been the thread or the throughline and continues to play a huge role in my life. It’s the game that starts with love, so what could be better than that?!
Playing tennis at Yale was the best part of my college experience. Our team was always very close and supportive and is still in touch to this day. While we live all over the country, we have a very active group text, communicating almost daily, and sharing everything from trips, families, shows we’re watching, books we’re reading, and getting together for reunions every year now. Those typically include tennis, pickleball, table tennis, charades (team game!), and lots of laughter. We are like sisters to each other and have celebrated so many of life’s moments together, from weddings, to having children, to our kids’ graduations, to grandchildren.
I also met my wife playing tennis, back in NY more than 20 years ago. We have traveled to tournaments and events together, as well as four Gay Games in Sydney Australia, Cologne Germany, Chicago, and Paris. I love that we can share the game. As they say, the family that plays together stays together!
I also love teaching and coaching, which I do a lot more of now. I coached Girls Tennis at Western Albemarle High School for 11 years, and run the Tennis programs for the Albemarle County Parks & Recreation. I teach kids as young as four, and adults as old as 80. I love sharing my love of tennis and how it can help us learn mindfulness, present moment awareness, and flow.
When asked how she would like to see the LGBTQ+ community grow in sports, she said this.
Sports has always been at the forefront of social change, and tennis in particular has had our share of sports leaders standing up for racial, gender equity, and equality for all. Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe were fantastic role models for equality, and speaking up for others. I have always looked up to Billie – one of my best teen memories was being a ball girl for her and Rosie Casals for the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis, and being there during practice with them & Elton John’s song blaring on the loudspeakers! I love how so many of our younger players like Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff are using their platforms to advocate for justice and things they believe in. Whether LGBTQ+, gender, race, class, or other, we all have multi-faceted identities, and I think the more we feel we can bring our whole selves to the court, field, track, or office, the healthier we can be, and the more likely we can be our best selves in life.
Tennis creates a community where all players can thrive. Ellen has found her passion and tribe through tennis, and it all started when she picked up her first tennis racquet. Today, she is traveling the country and the world to compete. “I play USTA League locally, mostly mixed doubles. I am getting back into the national competition, which includes national Category I & II tournaments, and team events like USTA Intersectionals,” Markowitz said. “I treasure the friends that I have made all over the country from tennis, and it’s so fun to see old friends and make new friends at tournaments.”
Not only is she an active player, but she is also driven by giving back to her community through tennis as well. Back in 1998, Ellen saw a need to increase the social, physical, and mental well-being of girls in her local community of New York City. That is how the nonprofit PowerPlay NYC (www.powerplaynyc.org) was born, as a way to advance the lives of girls through sports. PowerPlay NYC builds confidence and character, helping girls grow physically, emotionally, and academically stronger.
Having more than 30 years of nonprofit experience, Ellen is using her passion for sports to uplift women and girls in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Recently, she has been an integral organizer in helping USTA Mid-Atlantic launch the Girls Rule the Court™ program.
Girls Rule the Court is a free program for girls aged 7-13 to promote health, wellness, and teamwork while building their self-esteem through tennis. Led by female mentors and organizers, it seeks to focus the program to serve girls from underrepresented communities. If you are interested in volunteering with Girls Rule the Court, take a look at coaching and other volunteer opportunities here.
Ellen has been instrumental in supporting the program, currently in the pilot phase, and offering her expertise on the development of the program’s social-emotional components as well as participant materials and curriculum.
For Ellen, tennis is not just about hitting a ball on a court or winning matches. Tennis creates communities for our future generations to thrive in. It helps players develop character-building skills that will last a lifetime. And it helps maintain the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of all players that then supports them in all that life has to offer..
USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Learn about our impact in the Section and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.