As a senior at USC, I was giving my last season everything I had, physically, emotionally, and socially.
I planned on hanging up my racquets after, so it felt imperative to end my career on a high note. Because I felt so close to my teammates, I knew it would be special to achieve something big together.
As NCAAs got closer, we built great momentum to be a top contender. The pressure was on and expectations were high. Losing in the Sweet 16 was far from what we imagined and was a heartbreaking loss to swallow.
I sat in my hotel room afterward and thought about how it all didn’t feel right. The loss aside, I knew it was wrong to end my tennis career with this feeling in my gut.
The next couple of months were quite confusing for me. While I was finishing up units in summer school, I was interviewing for jobs. I was conflicted to be working so hard to get something I did not want.
Eventually, I picked up a racquet again to blow off some steam, and it just felt right. The love was still there and I was not ready to let tennis go.
Joining the professional circuit was one of the scariest things I have ever put my ego through. If I wasn’t going to use my college degree to work towards financial independence, I needed to make this endeavor worth it. My family helped me financially and my coach agreed to be compensated with lunches after practice.
There was constant fear on whether I would ever be good enough to make it all worthwhile. After four years of grinding, I finally built enough points to make my first grand slam qualifying. Being in New York and playing my way into the main draw, blew me away. I have always felt a tier below my peers, so in my mind, things like this aren’t supposed to happen to people like me. My only explanation for the unexpected is that I had the right people (my family, coaches, friends, and teammates) to empower me.
Every day I step out onto the court, I do it for everyone that has embraced my love for the game, because I know I was not built to do it alone.
— Danielle Lao (USC 2013)
Wikipedia: Danielle Lao competed for the USC Trojans where she was a two-time All-American and team captain.
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