By Loree Hazelrigg – Many William Jewell Students use their Journey Grants to create internships or other experiences that will inform and influence their future. For my journey grant I had the opportunity to travel with professional tennis player Natalie Pluskota and her manager on their journey to the US Open. We traveled to tournaments in Evansville, Lexington, Dayton, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. While in Canada Natalie broke her foot and that put a stop to the travelling and showed me a different kind of experience that most professional athletes have to deal with at some point in their career.
Before the career-changing injury, Natalie won the doubles bracket in both Evansville and Lexington, which earned her a wild card invitation to the US Open. On the road I was able to assist her manager with scheduling, media relations, travel plans, and fan goodies. Each morning I would wake up and check her ranking for the WTA and see if she had qualified for the upcoming tournaments. At the tournaments I would meet with the media and give them information about Natalie’s background at the University of Tennessee for their stories or broadcasts.
Being involved in so many activities gave the full experience of traveling with a professional athlete. The drama, the competition, and the pressure don’t stop. While playing in Vancouver Natalie started complaining of foot pain when she played. We eventually took her to the doctor for X-rays and MRIs. After getting word that her foot was broken, our plans changed drastically as we had to withdraw her from the US Open and schedule a day for surgery back home. Natalie is currently rehabbing and will try again next year to qualify for the Open.
I had a great time traveling and making new friends along the way, and I gained a lot of experience that will serve me well in the future. Traveling with a professional athlete was stressful at times, but the relationships I formed and the memories created were unimaginable.