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National

AAPI volunteers in their own words

Peter Francesconi | May 25, 2021

As we celebrate Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month during May, the USTA also celebrates those in the AAPI community whose dedication to the sport as USTA volunteers helps to keep our game growing strong. With more than 350 national volunteers from all 17 USTA sections, it would be difficult to recognize every AAPI leader here. But we’re thrilled to highlight five volunteer leaders—in their own words—whose contributions, influence and enthusiasm continue to push this organization and this sport forward.

Roshan Rajkumar

I was born and raised in Minnesota, stopping in Boston for college and Australia for a fellowship, then I returned to Minnesota for law school and to practice law.

 

Growing up in Edina, I learned that I stood out for being neither a hockey player nor white. It was not obvious to me that I was different until a question from a classmate’s parent or well-intentioned teacher became commonplace: “Where is your family from?” “Where is Sri Lanka?” “Do your parents have an accent?” and “Why don’t you have an accent?” 

 

At first, I thought it odd, since I was born in Edina, had never been to Sri Lanka, and preferred hamburgers over eggplant curry. Interestingly, tennis – forced upon me at age 9 by my older sister – turned into a life journey.

 

From Edina Park & Rec tennis lessons, to NJTL championships, to high school and collegiate tennis, to teaching in public parks and giving private lessons, to running a Park & Rec program, to playing at League Nationals, to winning a World TeamTennis national title, to serving on the USTA Northern Section Board of Directors, to serving as a USTA national volunteer for nearly 10 years.

 

As a USTA and Northern volunteer, I have been empowered to use my voice and skills to promote and grow the sport for so many different communities.

 

And I am eternally grateful that doors were opened to me, a Sri Lankan-American, to lead at all levels of the USTA.

 

As a USTA volunteer, leading has meant bringing my diverse perspective to help shape the game we all love.


Shelby Baron

I started playing tennis when I was about 11 years old. Born and raised in Honolulu, my family was very active as USTA volunteers, and in fact we received the USTA Hawaii Pacific Section Volunteer Family of the Year Award in 2016. Early on, I joined a JTT team in Hawaii, and in 2012, we qualified for Nationals.

 

In 2010, I attended a junior wheelchair tennis camp in Mission Viejo, Calif., where I met national wheelchair tennis coaches. Since that time, I’ve represented the U.S. in seven World Team Cup events (two as a junior and five as a women’s player) and at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

 

I moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., (where I currently live) in 2014 to attend the University of Alabama and play wheelchair tennis. I received a B.A. in communications disorders and an M.S. in speech-language pathology. I also helped the Crimson Tide win four consecutive national team championship titles, and served two years as team captain. 

 

My passion for coaching began in 2013 when I captained an orange ball team. I also provided free weekly wheelchair clinics to the community. During a couple of summers, I got a job at my high school coaching clinics. Currently, I am the volunteer assistant coach for the Alabama wheelchair tennis team as well as the Assistant Director for Crimson Community Wheelchair Tennis, where we work with juniors and adults in Alabama. I am currently PTR and USPTA certified. In 2018, I was named the PTR Wheelchair Professional of the Year.

 

And, continuing our family tradition, I’ve been an active volunteer, always enjoying the concept of giving back to the community that supported me throughout my tennis career. I am the Southern Regional Provider for Net Generation Wheelchair Tennis, in which I help the USTA develop and grow wheelchair tennis at the junior and grassroots levels. 

 

Also, I’m currently serving my second term as a member of the National Wheelchair Committee and this year, I took over as the Collegiate Subcommittee Chair. As the collegiate chair, I collaborate with the USTA Collegiate Staff and Committee to increase athlete participation and the number of programs across the country. I also support existing programs by relaying information and helping to plan the Collegiate National Championships each year.

I’m very passionate about growing the sport of wheelchair tennis, from juniors to collegiate. I was fortunate to have experienced all of the aspects of this pathway, even to the professional level. My experiences through tennis have been so beneficial to my health and well-being and have given me opportunities I would otherwise not have had. And, tennis has given me a passion in life beyond playing. I want to help create those same opportunities for disabled juniors throughout the nation as well.

 

While I’ve enjoyed this wonderful and uplifting path with wheelchair tennis, the events this past year toward the AAPI community have been extremely disappointing and upsetting. We still have a long way to go to eliminate the hate and violence. However, I’m hopeful for our future, and I believe AAPI Heritage Month is an excellent way to celebrate the community and all of its achievements. It is important to show others, especially the younger generation, that we celebrate diversity and inclusion. It is especially important to me, since I am part of another minority group (disability). 

 

Tennis is not just a game. It has the power to unite all people of different backgrounds (disability, race, gender, etc.). It is the reason I started playing tennis in the first place—tennis was the sport that I could play with my family. Being a part of different teams (junior, national, college) and playing others around the nation and the world has exposed me to people of all different backgrounds. Tennis is a wonderful avenue for spreading diversity and inclusion.


David Lee

Tennis is a sport that can transcend many challenges. I’ve played the sport all my life, and I’m thrilled that all three of my kids play here in Montgomery County, Md., where my wife, Julia, and I live in the town of Gaithersburg. 

 

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been sharing my passion for tennis—captaining USTA League teams, coaching my children’s JTT teams, as chair of the Montgomery College Foundation Tennis Classic (a heritage charity tennis tournament). I served on the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section board in the past and I am also the current Board President for the Montgomery County Tennis Association, the largest CTA in Maryland and provider of programs serving all ages in the greater D.C. area. 

 

I’m also proud to be the chair, for a second term, of the USTA’s National Advocacy Committee. With the Covid-19 pandemic and all the changes it has brought to our lifestyles, we’re now dealing with one of the greatest challenges of our generation.

 

To help spread the word about the great benefits tennis brings to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, we have an incredibly strong, experienced and dedicated group of volunteers on the National Advocacy Committee who are ready to help support tennis advocacy efforts across the country and to help this sport grow.

In many ways, I feel my story IS the story of AAPI in America. Both my parents emigrated from South Korea in the late 1960s and met here in the U.S. I was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up just like any other diverse American of color. Julia, also born in the U.S., is South Korean, too, and our three wonderful children, all born here, are of full Korean descent.

 

I make a point of this because of the unfortunate and challenging time we are living in now, with so much violence and hatred expressed toward Asians in this country. It pains me to see that we have literally gone backwards in regards to race relations overall—yet I’m hopeful that people can, and will, finally see Asian-Americans as a true part of this country and not simply as “transplants.”

 

As you can tell, I’m passionately proud of my Korean heritage, and Julia and I try to instill that in our children as well. But we live in America, and we are Americans first. Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month is very important because it recognizes our growing AAPI community and presence in America. Many new milestones in AAPI leadership are taking place now—including the United States’ first AAPI Vice President in Kamala Harris! We need to continue to highlight AAPI leaders, who are role models for our children—and for future generations from ALL backgrounds.


Mardy Ayers

I started playing tennis when I was 37 years old, when my daughter began taking tennis lessons in PE in the first grade. I thought it would be fun if I took lessons at a club near our house in Austin, Texas, so that my daughter and I could play together. But playing tennis with her mother was of no interest at the time to my 7-year-old daughter—however, I caught the tennis bug and have been playing now for 30 years. 

 

I played for years in USTA Leagues, where I was a captain for several teams. I also played in tournaments and socially. Unfortunately, five years ago I had an injury on the court, and while I’m still playing, it’s now for fun with friends.

 

My interest in tennis led me to the volunteer side of the game. I served as president of the Austin Women’s Tennis Association in 1997-98 and have been on the board of Austin’s Capital Area Tennis Association since 1999, including two years as president. I’ve been a volunteer for USTA Texas since 2004 and currently serve on the section’s Awards Committee and Leadership Development Committee. Nationally, I’ve been on the Membership Services Committee from 2011-2014 and on the Awards Committee from 2015 to the current term. 

 

I have a deep connection to the organizations I’ve volunteered with for nearly 25 years, and that continues to motivate me. In our volunteer structure, I understand how our committees work together to make our sport better and available to all people who want to play tennis and become involved in the game.

 

As a volunteer, I’ve always understood how important it is to recognize people for their accomplishments, whether it’s completing a project, winning a sports event or achieving a personal goal. As a member of the Awards Committee, I look forward to recognizing both those who have achieved, and our future achievers in this sport.

Growing up on military bases, I lived among diverse groups of families and children, who I interacted with, went to school with and played with. It’s wonderful to see more Asians taking center stage in many sports, and I’m especially proud to be involved in a sport like tennis, which is truly diverse and celebrates all our athletes’ achievements—both on and off the court. 


Justin Belisario

As a lifelong tennis player, born and raised in Los Angeles, I’m thrilled to be able to combine my passion for tennis with my “day job” as the Director of Program Operations for ACEing Autism, which is a national non-profit organization that provides tennis instruction to children on the autism spectrum. It’s exciting to see the participants in our program grow, develop and benefit from the social connections and fitness we are able to provide through affordable tennis programming.

 

I have always enjoyed competitive tennis. I was fortunate enough to play college varsity tennis at The Johns Hopkins University, then went on to the Philippines to receive my medical degree. After my studies, I continued to play in USTA adult leagues, and now I frequently play in the 9.0 mixed doubles division. 

 

My experience at ACEing Autism serves me well as a member of the USTA National Adaptive Committee and also as a member of the USTA Southern California Diversity & Inclusion Committee, as we work to advance the USTA’s strategic goal of making tennis more accessible to all people, including the adaptive community and the Asian American/Pacific Islander community.

 

I hope to see more AAPI members play this great sport of tennis, gain more recognition and opportunities to be highlighted for their contributions to the sport, and make an impact on the USTA by holding leadership positions in the tennis industry.

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