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What’s That Racket? Around the World on the Tennis Court
When I was a freshman in high school, my friend and I got to take a trip to New York City. We were two small-town girls, so we were ecstatic to explore the Big Apple. We would be sharing a room with two other girls, and before we arrived, we said, “It’ll be fine as long as we don’t get stuck with someone from New Jersey.” Of course, that’s exactly where our roommates ended up being from. The funny thing is that these girls said almost the same about us, praying that they weren’t trapped with people from Texas. Apparently, I managed to confirm every single stereotype they had about Texans. I wore cowboy boots, rode horses, had cows, and my family drove a pickup truck. But you know what? We all had a great time! Our new friends from New Jersey showed us how to ride the subway and get around the city, so the trip turned out to be a blast. You’re probably wondering what a 14-year-old was doing running around New York City without her parents. Believe it or not, I was there for a tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, because my friend and I were ranked No. 2 in our age group for doubles in Texas. I started playing tennis when I was about 5 years old after finding my big sister’s tennis racket in the back of the closet. I spent hours bouncing a tennis ball off our garage door, and my parents eventually decided to sign me up for lessons. I have always loved playing tennis, and I was really lucky to be coached by Bruno Taino. This guy was a big tennis coach from Peru, and he coached a number of great players. Among his protégés was an awesome player named Bettina Bunge, who was just 15 when I started playing tennis. Taino fell in love with a woman from my small town, which is how I was lucky enough to have such an amazing coach. He helped me truly embrace tennis, and the sport literally took me all around the world!
Valerie serves in a recent tournament.
Coach Bruno Taino and me in Puerto Vallarta
I played in Peru for about four months, which is where I learned Spanish.
Then I spent a few semesters playing on the clay courts of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I even spent time playing in Italy. Don’t
Valerie sits with the other top-10 players at the Clay Court Nationals.
get me wrong, it wasn’t all international travel. Playing tennis is hard work, and I needed to learn how to balance practice and school. But traveling alone so much helps you mature pretty fast, and I gained a real appreciation for the world. I met so many interesting people — both on and off the court. One time, Bettina Bunge stayed the night at my house, and Linda Carter once called on the phone to talk to us. I got to talk to Wonder Woman herself! It’s been awhile since I played competitively, but I still love spending time on the court, and I have a lot of friends who play tennis. Now that spring has returned and the snow is melting, it’s safe to say you can find me spending my free time with a racket in my hand.
–Dr. Valerie Drake
Huron Smiles • 605-352-8753 • 1
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