Tennis has always been a way of life for sophomore Alejandra Ramirez and junior Gabby Giraldo, but the cultural context of their athletic careers hasn’t always translated to the court.
Ramirez, a second-generation Mexican American, and Giraldo, a Colombian-born, navigated a predominantly white playing field in the United States despite cultural roots that shaped their athletic careers. As the only two Hispanic athletes on GW’s roster of seven tennis players, Ramirez and Giraldo have risen to pivotal roles on the team, securing two of GW’s three berths in the Bedford Cup regional final earlier. this month, where Ramirez took second place in singles and Giraldo took first place in doubles.
“I sacrificed so much for tennis,” Ramirez said. “I love the sport, I love the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had where I’ve travelled, all thanks to tennis.”
Now under head coach George Rodriguez, who took the job at GW in August and shares a Hispanic background, the two said they have found a home with the tennis program and the ‘dad feel’ in Rodriguez . During Hispanic Heritage Month, The GW Hatchet profiles Hispanic athletes at GW to showcase their talent and shine a light on the faces behind the stat lines.
“It was really tough, I definitely lost some Spanish,” Ramirez said. “It’s harder for me to talk about it more, but now this year with Gabi in the team, and now with our new head coach, it’s much better and it’s easier for me.”
Ramirez and Giraldo attended the same boarding school — Boca Prep International School in Boca Raton, Florida, specializing in athletic training, including a strong tennis program — during their high school years. Ramirez came to GW for her freshman year, but Giraldo detoured to the University of Houston for two years, where she hit a 19-12 singles record and won singles crowns at the Texas Regional and the Texas Regional. Universal Tennis Rating international tournament.
Ramirez went 1-5 for GW last season in the singles category but was ranked among the top 1,200 tennis players in the world by the International Tennis Federation. She said she struggled to stay connected to her culture in her freshman year with a predominantly non-Hispanic roster, but found a larger Hispanic community on campus through student organizations, such as the Latin American Student Organization, to make her feel at home.
She said she misses the family nature of Hispanic culture, like when her grandparents visited Texas from their hometown of Reynossa, Mexico, and ate traditional dishes like pozole — a Mexican soup made from of meat seasoned and garnished with lettuce, onions and garlic.
Ramirez said her father, a former Division III tennis player, inspired her to pursue her own tennis career and she was living her dream of playing at the Division I level. She said she had started playing tennis at the age of five and hadn’t been able to put the racket down since.
“He was my coach, which definitely has its ups and downs,” Ramirez said. “But I think my relationship with my dad is really special because tennis is such an important part of my life. And he’s not just my dad, but he was also my coach.
When Giraldo moved from Colombia to Florida at the age of 16 to pursue her college and tennis career at boarding school, she struggled to find her place so far from home and the comfort of her family. Now at GW, Giraldo said the University has offered a support system through her Latino community, and she returns home during breaks in the school year to see family and friends in Colombia, which she holds. “very close to his heart”.
“I also think the Latinos that are here, we sometimes take care of each other because, again, there aren’t that many of us,” Giraldo said. “But it’s a very good group, and it’s something that I carry with me, like my values and all that. It’s really nice to be able to represent where I’m from even though I’m so far from home.
Giraldo represented the Colombian national team at the regional and world championships in the 2022 season. Rodriguez said Giraldo has modeled the fight and the commitment he seeks to establish as the recruiting standard for the team in future seasons. .
“I think having Gabby gives us a good foundation and a stronger foundation as a team, and it gives me a measure of what I need to bring in talent that would match that or improve on that,” Rodriguez said. “And when they say it’s when you have someone like her that sets the bar high, my goal now – and I tell my team – is to bring people as high or even better to keep pushing. or continue to do so. better at the same time.
Both players have applauded Rodriguez’s leadership on the tennis team thus far, advancing their athletic potential and supporting them with a sense of cultural understanding. Giraldo said he made his transition to GW as smooth as possible, and Ramirez said he provided mental support beyond the physical demands of the game.
“I love having this international presence because it brings a different touch, a different dynamic to the team, a different way of thinking,” Rodriguez said. “And for me, it’s about getting to know each of my players on a more personal level and understanding their journey as well, and they’re all different.”
With a special bond developed with his players, Rodriguez is looking to chase the A-10 crown this season after the team showed encouraging results in the Bedford Cup final in their first competition of a seemingly promising season.