Local Sports Hero

05 September 2014 Written by  Michelle Lassle

Danielle Fender dedicated her childhood to the soccer field, beginning at the house league level at the earliest age and advancing to a competition team by the time she was nine.

“I went to sub for somebody on a comp team, and they said I needed to be playing at that level full time,” Danielle said. As goalie, Danielle proved she had the boldness to be successful. “You have to be fearless and just throw yourself out there,” Danielle said. “It really hurts to get kicked in the face, but sometimes it does happen.” When Danielle became a freshman at Freedom High School she knew she wanted to continue her soccer career at the next level and immediately made it on to the varsity team. Then as a sophomore the soccer coaches decided to relocate Danielle to the JV team to help coach and get more playing time. That was when the focus of her athletic career took a major shift.

As a freshman Danielle had been approached by her English teacher, who was also the tennis coach, to try out for the tennis team. Not having any experience whatsoever, Danielle brushed him off.

However, her teacher was insistent that she put her experience with lateral movement as a goal to use with a racket in her hand. Eventually Danielle gave in. What she discovered was an entirely different kind of passion. “I fell in love with tennis,” Danielle said. So when the changes were made on her soccer team, she made the decision to leave the field forever. “I played soccer for 12 years and then decided it no longer was for me,” Danielle said. “Tennis was so much better. I love the people and love playing.” Even though soccer and tennis seem to have nothing in common, Danielle was already conditioned from soccer which made the movement on the tennis court a smooth transition. Where soccer practice required full out running, tennis included doing bleachers and fast footwork. “Tennis is sprints where soccer is long distance.”

Initially Danielle played doubles; then in her junior year she progressed to singles and moved her way up the line. “You challenge each other every Friday, so someone can take your spot from you at any time,” Danielle said. As doubles the girls get paired by rank but can switch around if there is someone they would rather play with. They have matches against other teammates, and if they beat their opponent they advance. When comparing doubles to singles, Danielle much preferred singles and being able to solely worry about improving her own game. “Tennis is more about your own ability to work your way up the ladder to get to number one,” Danielle said. That is exactly what she did in her junior year, challenging the current top player and taking away her title. Number one is where Danielle stayed through the rest of her high school career.

As a novice player, Danielle was facing girls who had dedicated to tennis what she had invested into her soccer career, starting as young children. “I feel like I would have done even better if I would have started earlier because tennis is a lot about time and how much you put into it,” Danielle said. “The practice is just so important. It would have made me a much stronger player.” Despite her brief history with tennis, she still held on to the top spot for her last two years of high school and even earned a tennis scholarship from Freedom.

When Danielle wasn’t honing her tennis skills, managing the boys’ tennis team, coaching the Bristow girls’ soccer team, volunteering for Relay for Life, or working 30 hours a week at Starbucks, she could be found with her nose in a text book. Throughout her four years at Freedom, Danielle very rarely had anything lower than an A. Her grades and extracurricular activities gained Danielle entrance to Purdue University where she was planning on entering their ROTC program on a scholarship. “The $180,000 scholarship was based on your SAT score, grades, volunteer

work, extracurriculars, and an interview,” Danielle said. “I missed the necessary SAT score by 20 points. I was devastated.” When that door closed, Danielle opened another one. “I enlisted in the Navy instead. It’s always been in the back of my mind as a good option and what I should really do.” Danielle looks at the many benefits of joining the Navy: being able to travel, being exposed to different cultures and people, receiving the best medical training without any debt, and serving her country. Her plan is to commit the full 20 years to the Navy so that she can retire early and continue her career in the medical field as a physician’s assistant. “I want to be on a patient level but have more power than a nurse and hold more weight in discussions about nurses’ rights, medical rights, and patient health care,”

Danielle said. “My mom, who is a nurse, has always been my inspiration.”

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