In their own words: Zareena Clendaniel on AAPI Heritage Month

Compiled by Peter Francesconi | May 24, 2022

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 these volunteer leaders—in their own words—whose contributions, influence and enthusiasm continue to push this organization and this sport forward. Here, we highlight Zareena Clendaniel of the USTA National League Committee.

When I was just 2 years old, my mother and I immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, settling in Anchorage, Alaska, where my aunt lived. 


My mom and stepfather worked hard to build a life for me and my four siblings. It wasn’t easy. They had no money and limited English skills, and there was not a large Vietnamese community in Anchorage. But they worked extremely hard and found their own American dream in Alaska, buying a house and raising five successful children. Thanks to their hard work, I was able to go to college and earn a master’s degree in education from Stanford University. I currently am the Federal Programs Compliance Coordinator for the Anchorage School District.

When I was 14, a friend and I decided to give tennis a try during the summer. We found some old racquets and biked to a nearby public park to play tennis. That summer we taught ourselves how to play. I quickly fell in love with the sport and soon decided to try out for the high school tennis team, which is a fall co-ed sport in Alaska. I played three years of varsity tennis. 


When I was a sophomore one of the boys on the team kept asking me to play tennis with him. Senior year, we started dating, and we’ve been married now for almost 22 years. We’ve been playing tennis together the whole time, teaching our son and daughter how to play, too. We started them out with red balls and just having fun. Now, they smash our best shots for clean winners!


Tennis has given me so much that I wanted to give back to this sport. As a volunteer, I currently serve on the USTA’s National League Committee and at the section level, on the USTA Pacific Northwest Competition Committee. I’ve been the tournament director for several tournaments in Anchorage, including the Alaska State High School Tournament. 


In 2008, I was asked to join a 3.0 women’s league team, and since then, I’ve been on many USTA League teams, serving as a captain and player. I’ve met so many players from all walks of life by playing league tennis and volunteering my time on committees. On my first league team, I met a senior woman player, player from Puerto Rico, a Muslim African American, and a Japanese woman who grew up in Brazil. They each remain cherished friends. Tennis created the opportunity for me to connect with such special and diverse people.


As I reflect upon AAPI Month, I think about how my family emigrated from Vietnam, coming to Alaska with nothing. But we were able to work hard and achieve the American dream. Tennis is a part of my American dream. 


It’s important for tennis to be available to everyone, regardless of income, race or ethnicity. The USTA is working to grow the game in diverse communities, but there is still much work to be done. Every child should be given the chance to fall in love with tennis like I did that special summer on the cracked asphalt courts in Anchorage’s Lyn Ary Park. Tennis truly changed my life.

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