The right fit

My very first memory of tennis involves me trying to chase some butterflies on the tennis court when I was 5. At that naive moment in life, I had no idea how significant this sport would be in the upcoming years of my life. My parents had introduced tennis to me as a way to get some exercise in. Soon, seeing my progress, my coaches asked for my parents to let me play in local matches. As time went by, tennis became the anchor in my life. With my parents’ support and encouragement, I traveled around India playing nationals and soon ITFs. Juggling my studies alongside all of this was not easy, but I had managed to carve around that obstacle. But, unbeknownst to me, the biggest hurdle was yet to come. 

At that time, there were very few opportunities to make tennis a career. No matter how badly I wanted that to happen, a practical decision had to be made. I knew for a fact that I wanted to keep playing tennis, but at the same time, I had begun to realize the importance of a proper, quality education—something my parents knew all too well. We began searching for a common ground where I could play tennis and study well, and college tennis came into our lives as the win-win solution. 

Thus, the decision was made. 17-year-old me would move across oceans to study in the US and play tennis. Till that point, no one in the family had studied abroad and so it was a new boat I was going to be sailing as I represented them. Unfortunately, not a lot of tennis players from India had opted to sail on this boat, and so we had limited guidance to navigate through the process. After thousands of emails and loads of sleepless nights, I finally got recruited by the University of South Carolina Upstate. 

The last few days at home and the first few days in the US were full of bittersweet feelings. From the love and care in my mother’s eyes as we said goodbye, to meeting new teammates for the first time, I soon got accustomed to the US and began living my wholesome college experience. However, just when I thought my boat was sailing in the right direction, I found out that I would not be in the school’s tennis team from my second year onwards as I was not the right fit. It was heartbreaking and confusing at the same time as my dream that was slowly coming true had come to an abrupt end. 

The process began once more. My mother and I teamed up, and this time we knew we would find the right path to achieve my dream. In the dawn of summer, we found Niagara University.  From the moment I stepped into the University campus, something in me knew this place was where I would be making memories that would last a lifetime—both as a student and a tennis player.

Today, whenever I step on the court and think back, I am overjoyed and humbled to have had the opportunity to find the right fit for me. Now I have a lesson in my life that I will keep passing down as encouragement—do not grow tired of finding a place where you fit and belong, and be patient in the process. 

Sharlee Deshmukh, Lead Counselor