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In their own words: USTA Adaptive Committee members on AAPI Heritage Month
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 three members of the USTA's national adaptive tennis committee.
I was born in Kobe, Japan, where I lived until I came to the U.S. in my mid-20s. I’ve now been in this country for 24 years, currently living in New Milford, Conn. Being both Asian and a woman in today’s society, I see first-hand the challenges that many of us continue to face, especially when it comes to heritage and gender bias.
This was especially true, and challenging for me, when I had my daughter, who is half Japanese and half American. What she experiences at school—feeling discriminated against and picked on—is very different from what I had expected. But she stands up and faces these challenges rather directly, and I’ve learned to advocate for her and for our family.
The tennis community and the USTA have given me an opportunity to deal with these inequality issues head-on, through my participation in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The USTA family and community is very supportive, but we still have a long way to go to truly achieve a diverse and inclusive community. Sometimes, when we talk about race, I feel like the Asian community often is left out or minimized; that our conversation mainly focuses on white and Black. But we are way more than that.
As the name implies, AAPI is a wide-ranging group of people who come from very different cultures. For instance, if you think about Pacific Islanders and Asians from the northern continent, we do not share much heritage at all. So while I appreciate the attention AAPI Month brings to all of us, people need to understand it involves many different races, cultures and ethnicities.
Tennis, of course, can be unifying in so many ways. I played growing up, got burned out after captaining my high school team, put my racquet aside for about 20 years, then rediscovered the joy of the sport about eight years ago. Now I play as often as I can and am captain of a mixed team and play in a women’s league.
Importantly, though, playing tennis has led me to volunteering on the USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee, and for USTA New England, I’m chair of the Adaptive Tennis Subcommittee and on the section’s DEI Committee. All of this ties in nicely with what I do in life.
I’m an educator, with a master’s degree in education, and I’ve worked with children with psychosocial disabilities for nearly 25 years. I’m in the field of Animal Assisted Interventions and Nature Based Services, using animals and nature to work with students with special needs. I’m a certified Therapeutic Horseback Riding instructor, and I mentor and supervise staff and interns who work with students and animals and plants directly. I also work with therapists and clinicians and provide education on animals, animal behavior and welfare so we can work with children and animals safely, therapeutically and ethically.
My career has been around children who cannot access things that others can. For instance, because of their behavioral challenges, the kids I work with often cannot access academic instruction in traditional ways. They also often are not successful in participating in social and other opportunities such as sports and high school athletics.
Tennis is a sport that requires communication and cooperation with others. I would like as many children as possible to access this lifelong sport because it will help them experience more inclusion and help them be a part of the community. My dream is for every high school tennis team to have a unified or adaptive division, and matches will have adaptive or unified courts, just like they have singles and doubles. Adaptive athletes can be a part of their high school teams.
I’m extremely proud of who I am and of my background, but I am also very aware that I’ve been privileged to grow up with very little hardship in a very peaceful, yet homogeneous, culture. There are a lot of things that I have not experienced, yet every day I continue to learn and grow. Compassion, empathy and a passion for what I do, both in life and in tennis, continue to guide me, and I hope continue to allow me to be a part of an increasingly inclusive society.
Dr. Karl Lee
I'm a third generation Chinese American, born in San Francisco. My father was a chemist working for the Navy, and my mother, who was from Akron, Ohio, worked in the computer section on the local naval base.
I fell in love with tennis at a young age, but I began my career on a very different path, graduating from Tufts School of Dental Medicine in 1982. I thought I would always be a dentist, but my future proclaimed otherwise.
At the suggestion of my tennis pro, and due to my keen interest in the sport, I obtained my USPTA certification in 2006 and became a teaching pro, while still maintaining my dental practice. Currently, I’m a teaching pro at the Chevy Chase Club in Chevy Chase, Md., where I teach junior, adult and small group lessons.
One day a patient of mine came in wearing a T-shirt that said “Gerry Hattricks.” The play on words was actually the emblem of a veteran support organization for hockey. Neither my patient nor I could think of a similar foundation for tennis. So I decided to create one.
In 2018, Wounded Warrior Tennis was born, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching the game to those needing a pathway for healing. As the scope of the possible participants increased to include those of social, emotional and cognitive impairment, Wounded Warrior Tennis became Adaptive Tennis US.
To further assist those adaptive players, in 2018 I also became a Certified Tennis Performance Specialist through the International Tennis Performance Association (iTPA), learning the biomechanics basis of fundamental movement in tennis. Additionally, I became a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association in 2019, then obtained the Corrective Exercise Specialist certificate from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in 2020. All of this education has been for the purpose of being able to deliver an individualized methodology of tennis training to adaptive tennis players.
In 2020, I joined the USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee, and I quickly realized there is a threefold problem when it comes to adaptive tennis. First, the general public has no clear understanding of the “adaptive tennis player.” Currently, the USTA defines adaptive players in three categories: physical/rehabilitation, cognitive/developmental and social/emotional. Most people tend to group “Special Olympics” players with adaptive players, not realizing the broad range of conditions.
Second, the tennis teaching community has no idea how to teach this new category of players, as there is no set manual for teaching this group.
Third, adaptive players tend to view themselves as limited in function, since they constantly receive negative external reinforcement concerning their limitations.
I knew tennis could be a way for adaptive players to find a new identity, a new confidence and a new pathway for healing. On the National Adaptive Tennis Committee, I’m the co-chair of the marketing and outreach subcommittee and am also on the training and education subcommittee. Recently, I traveled to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona to work on the Level 2 manual for teaching adaptive tennis. In our research, we’ve discovered that the adaptive tennis market represents a huge, untapped financial opportunity, with more than a million potential players who can be a tremendous market for tennis teaching, equipment sales and court time. But, more importantly, tennis represents a pathway for these individuals to discover themselves, to feel a part of a community and to realize that the only limits they have are those they set for themselves.
As an Asian American, there have been times when I’ve felt apart from mainstream society. Perhaps this is why I feel so passionate regarding the mission of Adaptive Tennis US, to give the “outsiders” a voice, a chance to compete and a way of finding themselves. Tennis is our guide in life.
I’ve always enjoyed tennis, and especially watching such players as Billie Jean King, Yvonne Goolagong, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf on TV. But I don’t remember ever seeing players who looked like me on the courts. I think AAPI Heritage Month is a wonderful way to bring our diversity in this sport to light, and to shine a spotlight on those who continue to make a difference in their communities.
Here in Pensacola, Fla., we have a very robust community of Filipinos/Filipino Americans, most of whom came to this area due to service in the U.S. Navy. I first started playing tennis in my high school phys ed class when I was a freshman. I must have done something that left an impression, because the PE teacher saw me playing, then sent me to the tennis coach to try out for the high school team—and that seemingly subtle act and recognition may well have changed the course my life would take.
I played on my high school team, then as a senior received a college scholarship to a nearby junior college. Now, I’m a USPTA Elite Professional and a PTR professional. I currently teach at the Roger Scott Tennis Center in Pensacola, and I also own a non-profit organization, Tennis-4-Everyone (an NJTL/CTA), which provides free tennis instruction and homework assistance to kids in underserved communities in the Pensacola area.
I’m also a Special Olympics coach for the local area, a Team Florida coach for the USA Games, and also a Love Serving Autism certified coach. And I’ve been honored to have been recognized for my work over the years, most recently with the 2017 USTA Florida Champion of Tennis Award, 2019 Pensacola Sports Volunteer of the Year Award and 2020 USPTA Florida Diversity Award.
As a woman in tennis teaching, I’d certainly like to see more female professionals in general, but especially in leadership positions. It’s tough to be seen and heard in this male-dominated arena, but I do feel that we’re making more and more inroads. My advice for women considering a career in the tennis industry is to just go for it! Don’t let fear or doubt drive you away. Seek out a mentor. If you’re currently teaching, keep doing what you are doing! Your voice, your opinions and your ideas matter.
For me, I also find great enjoyment as a player and a volunteer in tennis. I’ve captained and played in USTA Leagues since 1998 and have made many friends over the years. As a volunteer, I currently serve on the USTA Florida Board of Directors and also as a member of the USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee, where I get to bring my expertise in coaching and working with all types of players to helping determine a strategy for a broader, national audience.
My volunteer service in this game has been most satisfying, and reminds me of this quote, from an unknown source, that seems especially apt today: "Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
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