Former Player and Captain Jan Karibian Finds Joy in Giving Back
Longtime USTA St. Louis District player, captain and now-volunteer Jan Karibian remembers wondering what her 3.5 women’s team would run up against when the squad qualified for the 1996 USTA League National Championships in Tucson, Arizona.
Though some of her friends were perennial participants at Nationals, Karibian had never attended before and the 3.5 level was stocked with a massive pool of players. How would her team respond to playing outside when a large chunk of the season was indoors? Would the southwest dry heat be a major factor? With no computerized system back then, would the rating system actually work and allow for competitive play?
Before Karibian could answer those questions, she first needed to ask her team some after the squad captured a Sectional title in Oklahoma City:
“What’s going to be our philosophy? Are we going to let everybody get equal playing time? Or are we going to try to put the best teams out there and go for it?” Karibian said. “And they’re like, ‘Jan, there’s no question. We’re going for it. We want to come back to be the National champs.’”
Though the team fell a bit short of that goal, the group did collect a fourth-place finish at the National Championships. While Karibian was initially anxious to see how her St. Louis squad stacked up against the very best 3.5 teams, she discovered the rating system of the time worked. Matches were competitive across the board.
“There’s just so much about tennis that is so cool,” Karibian said. “You’ve got this league. You’ve got the different levels. You may be a beginner. You may be a teaching pro. And everywhere in between. But you can still go and compete all the way up to the National level. And still play against players you have a chance to beat.”
Karibian — who captained multiple teams for several years — credited the “most amazing women” on her squad for their focus, determination and trust in letting her lead without complaint. She said her players were super supportive of her decision-making, which contributed to the team’s success.
While the National Championship appearance was a highlight, Karibian got her USTA career rolling a few years after she married in 1988. She played with her sister and some friends and was soon hooked. A group of ladies practicing nearby one day asked if Karibian would like to join in on the fun. Karibian said yes, and that group later decided to participate in what was then called the Volvo League.
“With tennis, your network just expands,” Karibian said. “I’ve got friends that go back decades from when I was first starting to play tennis. We had this group of women who played, but then we also interacted socially. We traveled together. Sometimes it would be going to, say, a tennis tournament to watch in Indianapolis or Cincinnati. It seemed like tennis just attracts some very fun people.”
Karibian progressed as a player and was bumped up from the 3.5 level to 4.0. She reached 4.5 status for a couple years. After the 1996 National Championship run Karibian began to deal with some injuries, which unfortunately proved a theme throughout her career. She had tennis elbow and sustained several knee injuries, which ultimately required knee replacement surgery in 2008 and 2010.
By 2008, Karibian said her body “kind of gave out” and she could no longer handle the physicality of tennis. But that didn’t deter her from remaining involved in the sport. Since that time, Karibian served on the USTA St. Louis District Board of Directors as vice president of adults and then president of adults.
She has volunteered for years in various roles — including running sites — at district tournaments hosted by USTA St. Louis. Karibian was recognized as the Volunteer of the Month this past August for her efforts helping two consecutive days at USTA Sectionals in St. Louis. Karibian was surprised and honored to receive the award. She said with “sports I love, I feel compelled to do what I can to give back.”
During her time serving on the Board of Directors, the USTA Missouri Valley president gave Karibian tickets to attend the 2010 US Open. She called her time spent in New York City “amazing.”
“Billie Jean King was in our box at some point,” Karibian said. “She’s a legend in tennis. It’s amazing what she’s done. I remember Roger Federer walked by. Wow. To be so close to these players you see on TV. Just to be there. It was a great experience.”
Karibian retired from full-time work in 2018 and now does a bit of part-time consulting in regulatory affairs for human and animal drug applications. She worked in the pharmaceutical industry for two companies her entire career. Karibian started with Mallinckrodt before transitioning to animal healthcare with Virbac in 2014.
Karibian said she loved the exercise and camaraderie that came with playing tennis, and she now enjoys giving back to help facilitate those opportunities for others.
“I love volunteering because some of these players weren’t 4.5s — they might have been 3.0s — but you could just tell how much they loved being out there on the court,” Karibian said. “Yeah, they’re not going to run down balls. And they had wraps or braces on numerous body parts. But they were still out there.
“I wasn’t able to keep playing as long as I would have liked, but I still played for many years. There are so many people still out there, way older than me competing at all levels. That’s one of the things I really like about the sport.”
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