Hear Me Roar
May 2019 Issue
Photos submitted by Nadja Gilchrist
Top Photo by Neal Trousdale, 2018, OpenTenis.ro
Local Phenom Power Player All Grown Up
Career: Professional Tennis Player
Leroy & Eileen Gilchrist (parents); Gamal & Lisa Gilchrist (siblings)
Originally from Rochester, NY, but has been living on Hilton Head Island since the age of 12
How old were you when you first picked up a tennis racket?
I was seven years old when I first picked up a racket and I loved it! Tennis was an after school curriculum, and I decided to go and try it out. The coaches said I enjoyed hitting the ball as hard as I could, and I should start learning to play and take tennis lessons.
Tell us a bit about your journey to become a professional tennis player:
Once I started to take private lessons, I got really good pretty fast, and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said if I wanted to become even better I needed to attend a tennis academy. My parents sent me to Smith Stearns Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island at the age of 12. I trained there during my junior career. I was a highly nationally ranked junior and on the verge of turning pro when I got injured my senior year in high school. Instead, I decided to go to college. I was the No. 1 college recruit in the nation that year, and I accepted a full scholarship to the University of Georgia. I stayed and played at UGA all four years and was named All American in both singles and doubles all four years. After graduation, I turned pro, reaching a career high Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles ranking No. 360.
Our theme for the May issue is #The Power of Play. What does this phrase mean to you personally and professionally?
Personally, the power of play means that we need to have fun and play games, not just by ourselves but with kids, too. I love helping kids, and I believe the power of play can help develop their social skills. As a professional athlete, I have the power to help influence kids by playing such an individual and tough sport. For example: Pro athletes Lebron James and Andre Agassi have helped kids by creating nonprofit organizations allowing kids the opportunity to have fun and play games. I think it’s great. I’d like to do something like that one day.
What’s the best part of being on the Women’s Pro Tour?
The worst? The best part is I get to meet so many different players from different countries. I also love that I get to travel all over the world and experience new cultures. The worst part was having to transition from playing college tennis and being on a team with nine other girls, to playing alone. I had to remind myself tennis is really an individual sport. The culture at these tournaments is much different, and sometimes the women aren’t as welcoming. College is competitive, but you have teammates to help you deal with it. The Tour can be brutal because it’s every woman for herself.
You’re in Egypt, playing in a tournament, as you answer these questions. Take us through a typical day in your life:
A typical day for me is waking up to eat breakfast and then heading to the tennis courts to warm up for my match. After I finish the match, I usually head to the gym to stretch out and cool down and go in the cold tub to help with recovery. I then head to lunch, and if I have time, I go relax by the pool and take a nap before dinner because playing in the hot sun is draining. I usually eat dinner by 6:30 and then sit in the lobby to use the WiFi to call my family and friends. Then I go back to my room to relax and watch a movie on TV and get ready for tomorrow’s match.
Do you travel alone? If so, do you get lonely? How do you deal with it?
(Laughing) Well, luckily I’m not traveling alone this time, which is very nice. When I started playing junior tournaments, my dad would travel with me and sometimes my mom, as well. Once I started playing professionally, my coach did travel with me to a few tournaments but it was very expensive. I couldn’t afford to have him come with me. So as of right now, I travel alone. It does get very lonely. I usually try to find a few girls who I know who are going to the same tournament. I will either try to stay with them, or at least have lunch and dinner with them. But to cope with my loneliness, I call my parents or my friends and FaceTime with them. Also my Netflix keeps me company.
What’s your favorite thing to do off the court?
My favorite thing is playing with my dog, Gigi, or hanging out with friends. I also like to spend girly time getting my nails done and shopping.
You’re starting graduate school in August. Congratulations! What are you planning to study, and what’s in your career future?
Thank you! I’m so excited to start graduate school. I’m starting online because I am still playing tennis and traveling. I’m getting my masters in Communications. In the future, I would like to work in broadcasting either for ESPN or the Tennis Channel.
Three things you most want to do when you get home from a tournament:
I’m usually pretty exhausted by all the match play and travel, so I’m pretty chill for the first few days. I like to sleep, hang out with my dog, and catch up on my favorite TV shows I’ve been missing.
What are you roaring about right now?
What I’m roaring about right now is getting into graduate school. I was so scared to apply because I haven’t been in school for awhile. I’m 27, but I’m so very glad I decided to take the chance and send the application. I’m excited for what’s ahead for me. What makes me roar today is seeing what a strong woman my life has helped me to become—both on and off the tennis court.