A College Tennis Player’s Challenges and Successes

04/08/2024

Ábrahám Vivien’s story is yet another example of how life doesn’t always follow a smooth path, and unexpected twists often arise from moments when we least expect them. Vivi was born and raised in Budapest, where her parents early on emphasized the importance of sports and an active lifestyle. However, when she moved to the United States to pursue collegiate tennis, she faced numerous challenges. Throughout her university years, she battled many difficulties, but now that those are behind her, she has found new opportunities in New York. This article delves into Vivi’s journey, her dreams and challenges, and how she fought for her goals while preserving her mental health along the way.

Photo: Clive Brunskill

First, let’s hear a bit about where you grew up and how you got into the world of tennis

I was born and raised in Budapest, the middle child. Both of my parents were athletes, so physical activity was always crucial in our family, although competitive sports were never forced upon us. Around the age of 6, during a family vacation, my dad and I went to a tennis court to try out some tennis-like activities. With my parents having degrees in physical education, they quickly noticed my coordination and affinity for sports. When we returned home, we visited a nearby tennis club, and I started playing tennis 1-2 times a week. Alongside tennis, I also swam, rode horses, and did aerobics at a young age, but I only pursued tennis and aerobics competitively, eventually deciding to focus solely on tennis when I was 10 years old.

 

When and why did you decide to move to America?

For me, this decision came late, in the last semester of high school, as I was hesitant about going to university for a long time. Somehow, I viewed it as a fallback option, a “Plan B” if a professional career didn’t pan out. I was homeschooled during the latter part of high school, training 5-6 hours a day and competing frequently, but unfortunately, I couldn’t overcome the mental pressure and blocks, so I decided to pursue university alongside, hoping to embrace the confidence-filled American mentality. Education was always important to me, and my parents always expected me to excel academically alongside sports, so it was beneficial to have the opportunity for a tennis scholarship at the university level where I could continue my studies. Eventually, I also realized that to become a Top 100 player (practically the only option for a successful career financially and professionally), many things need to align perfectly, which is quite unlikely. All these factors led me to move to America, to a completely new and unfamiliar environment, far from my family and everything that had shaped my life until then.

 

Which university did you attend, and what did you study during your time there?

Before 2018, I had never been to America. In March, during an “official visit,” I had the chance to visit two schools: the University of Missouri and Rice. Originally, I was interested in Rice because of its strong academic programs, but by the end of the visit, it became clear that the atmosphere and campus of Missouri were more suitable for me, especially when planning for 4 years rather than just a few months. Moreover, Mizzou is in the SEC conference, one of the strongest among all, so I knew that tennis would be of high caliber, and I trusted in my development. As for my studies, I knew I wanted to study something creative, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. Business was too broad and general for me, and interior design was too specific. Eventually, during the visit, I discovered that Mizzou is home to the nation’s first and one of the best journalism schools, a program that encompasses much more than just journalism. The curriculum covers traditional journalism, reporting, PR (Public Relations), as well as all aspects of modern media, graphic design, and photography/videography, including broader communication subjects. This was a much more diverse and creative field than what was taught under “Communication” back home, and I resonated with it very well, especially from my third year when I could specialize in modern media/marketing/advertising.

 

What was the biggest challenge for you during your student-athlete years?

The biggest challenge revolves around an entire article and social media post frenzy. I had terrible experiences with head coaches, experiencing firsthand the deplorable coaching style behind the smiles. Unfortunately, this is widespread, especially in Power 5 conferences, where immense pressure is placed on every athlete to “represent the school” adequately. In such conferences, particularly when we weren’t at the top of the rankings, there was constant tension within the team, primarily in the environment generated by the coach, to which everyone tried to adapt. We were blamed for everything; if we lost, it meant that the 20+ hours of training per week weren’t enough, and we were constantly “strongly recommended” to do extra workouts alongside our school commitments. Every other weekend, we traveled somewhere to play matches, and we could never train enough or in a way that wouldn’t lead to us being blamed for the losses. There was a lot of mental terror behind closed doors, and nobody cared about what kind of people we were, how we performed academically (everyone was an excellent student), how much we volunteered in our free time, or what other leadership programs we participated in. The only thing of value to the coach was victory, an extra point on the scoreboard.

 

Why did you decide to stay in America after finishing university? And where are you working now?

Initially, Columbia, Missouri, was a very cute college town, but there wasn’t much to do there without the university. I loved the school, especially my professors, but as soon as I could, I tried to break out of the environment and nurture my soul a bit after the whole tennis upheaval. I applied for a New York scholarship program through my school’s master’s program, and I was able to complete the last semester of my master’s degree in New York. I graduated in December 2023, but I really liked New York, so I decided to stay here and do my one-year OPT (Optional Practical Training – every foreign student can apply for this after finishing university, allowing students to utilize their profession for a year in America).

 

Photo: Peleskey Bence

As you mentioned, the university tennis life was very challenging for you mentally. What advice/tips would you give to other college athletes going through similar situations? What helped you move forward?

I think it’s crucial to find a community that provides support, and this can easily happen outside of tennis/sports teams. Unfortunately, the extra difficulty for me was that I lived with three other tennis girls, even when I wasn’t part of the team anymore, which greatly narrowed my world. Also, before that, I lived with tennis players throughout all four years of university, and I don’t recommend this, regardless of the sport, as we spent 5-7 hours together every day anyway, plus the traveling. I definitely suggest finding a community outside of sports because sports have dominated our entire lives, and breaking free from this role can be a significant relief.

Additionally, what helped me was the realization of a project, which involved writing an article and researching university sports experiences. It was important for me to share what happened to me, and achieving this goal, amidst school obligations, diverted my attention.

 

Where do you see/imagine yourself in 5 years?

That’s a big question that I unfortunately can’t answer due to the visa situation. Currently, I’m in New York, working with my one-year OPT, but the future is a big question mark. Ideally, in 5 years, I’ll be a creative director at a New York advertising agency, but we’ll see what the future holds.

 

Lastly, but not least, a few “rapid-fire” questions:

Burger or Loaded fries? Loaded fries

Cheesecake or Somlói galuska? Cheesecake

Peanut butter and jelly or Pancakes? Pancakes

Chicken fried steak or Chicken paprikash? Chicken paprikash

Mac and cheese or Túrós csusza? Túrós csusza

Chain Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge? Chain Bridge

Lake Balaton vacation or Florida beach? Both Balaton and Florida (depends on the location)

Soccer or American football? Neither soccer nor American football, it depends on the mood and company

 

The “My America” blog series introduces several successful Hungarian athletes in America, click here and get to know them too!

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szia@hungarianhub.com

HungarianHub Inc.

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

szia@hungarianhub.com

HungarianHub Inc.

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

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