Middle States

Leading the Way

During her most difficult times, Michelle Gbelama leans on tennis. She thinks others can do the same.


“Almost everywhere I go, tennis helped me get there,” Gbelama said. “I realize all the chances this sport gave to me and I don’t take any of that for granted.”


Gbelama is now trying to share that insight and knowledge with others. Recently she started She Leads Sports LLC, an organization focused on helping high school athletes through the college recruitment process.


The process is not easy, and that’s something she learned, first-hand.


Gbelama migrated from Liberia to the United States with family to help her father manage a church he had established in Trenton, N.J. Just a year later, her father passed away.


“The experience forced me to become independent at a young age,” she said. “Being raised in a strange land by a single mother forced me to strive even more for a better future.”


She found that future with tennis.


Gbelama discovered the sport as a 16-year-old. She picked it up quickly and immediately improved. She practiced every morning on the tennis wall, and joined her high school team. Eventually, that led her to the NJTL of Trenton, which meant more practice and support.

“Tennis became my life and the getaway in dealing with the death of my father,” she said. “The courts were the only place where I felt like myself.”


Gbleama didn’t have much financial freedom, and she thought tennis could be a gateway to a college education. 


“I applied for 100 scholarships during my senior year,” she said. “I was eventually awarded more than $50,000 in funds outside of grants and financial aid.”


She was also recruited to compete at Drew University in New Jersey, where she was a standout student-athlete.


Her goal now is to share all of that information with others.

“Scholarships and college preparation can be so overwhelming,” she said. “I used to think, ‘I am not good enough to play college tennis.’ I spent many nights worrying about the process until one day I decided to put all of my energy and focus into understanding the necessary steps needed to get into my dream college. I realized that overthinking and worrying was getting me nowhere so instead, I researched, asked questions, and sought assistance any way I could.”


Gbelama and her staff have worked with more than 5,000 youth from diverse backgrounds to help navigate and empower girls to join and maintain their participation in sports. 


“I just hope I can share this with others and make a difference any way I can.” 


Cruise Control Gear has joined USTA Middle States in sponsoring our Unstoppable Women in Tennis series, highlighting the incredibly strong women who are forces on and off the court in our Middle States community. 

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