First meetings are always a little awkward. Especially when it is a first meeting between WTA Legend Mary Pierce and a group of reserved teenagers from a local girls’ home, earlier this WTA Finals week.
Despite a long, successful life in tennis, Mary isn't here at the home to talk about the titles and money she has won since she began playing tennis at age 10. She is here to talk about hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.
The handshakes are hesitant as the girls size up the statuesque tennis player dressed in a simple black t-shirt and jeans. They are intrigued but wary. Maybe we will let you in, maybe we won't.
Everyone eases into an icebreaker-making WTA Finals badge magnets-led by SportCares CareRunner and regular volunteer Hanisa. Two years ago, Hanisa was a shy girl who spoke only when pressed with questions. Now, she speaks with confidence and ease. “You can keep a magnet for yourself and the rest will go to the fans at the WTA Fanzone ongoing now!” she says enthusiastically. The girls look pleased that they will get to keep the magnets.
A few minutes goes by with everyone picking something to do--cutting the badge paper, adjusting the badge materials in the maker. Silence. Then, the air pierces with the giggles of a girl who succeeds at making her first magnet. The group breaks into roaring laughter and claps, and suddenly, the tension lifts. As the group works through making the magnets, we see glimpses of cooperation and glances of encouragement.
As the activity winds up, Hanisa presents a beaded bracelet to Mary. It is handmade, with love and pride, by the girls from the Love Singapore tennis programme. Mary’s initials are included among the beads. One of the girls helps Mary put on her bracelet and a suggestion is made for the group to stack their hands together for a quick photo, like a sports team does before a game starts.
Mary starts to talk about her life in sport and the impact it had on her family. She delivers a sincere, raw sharing of the struggles she faced as a professional sports woman and as a teenager once herself. She talks about her estrangement from and subsequent reconciliation with her father who served as her coach for many years. The girls lean in a little closer, the words weighing more and more.
Mary’s sharing strikes a chord. “Each one of you is unique and very special. And each of you is good at something. Whatever is your dream, remember that you can achieve it. Believe in your self. I went through some tough times, but came out stronger.”
The meeting ends less awkwardly than it began. Mary gives and receives a hug from each girl, with one hug lasting longer than expected. The next girl waits patiently for her hug, knowing that the girl ahead needs the longer hug.
We all need love and understanding. Sometimes, it comes from a perfect stranger who can see something familiar in us. Sometimes it comes from a tennis legend who can patiently persevere through the awkwardness to help us believe we are all meant for greater things.
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