APRIL Featured Athlete - Danielle Lao Sport - Professional Tennis I started playing tennis at the age of 7. My parents signed me up for an innocent lesson in Mexico while we were on vacation. It was more a way to get someone to babysit me while they did boring adult things. To be honest, I didn’t like it in the beginning. At the time, I had already been golfing for 3 years, so making contact with a moving ball was way out of my comfort zone. For starters, I felt uncoordinated, unathletic, and quite frankly terrible at the sport.
When I returned home to California, my parents enrolled me in some tennis group lessons at Arcadia Park. The sport became slightly more bearable since I could share my misery with the other kids who stood in line waiting for their turn to hit the ball. Group lessons evolved into private lessons, and private lessons escalated to joining my first tournament.
At that point, I had never been placed in competition before. Not even in the local soccer league that all my school mates seem to be a part of. The idea of any performance was scary - that was until, I won the tournament. Holding my first trophy was the moment my passion for this sport was born. Although I still hadn’t developed a love for the game yet, I was just fond of the feeling of victory.
From then on there was a growing obsession about finding way to increase my chances of winning. Whether it was hitting more balls, running certain drills, watching film, or eating properly, I was willing and open to do whatever it took. Being the first generation athlete in my family was challenging. My parents and I had very little knowledge on what it took to be a high performing player, so we had to sift through loads of information.
At the current age of 27, I look back on the last 20 years and marvel at how much this sport has pushed me to be in tune with what my game, body, and mind need. Standing at 5’3” and 115 pounds, I’ve had to make up for my lack of height and mass that my adversaries were gifted with. Unlike more physical players who can power through most circumstances, I had to acquire weaponry that wasn’t brute force. Skill and accuracy had to be finer; body needed to be quicker; and the mentality needed to be clearer.
It’s tempting to try and compete pound for pound with everyone, but I chose to use my small frame to make me uniquely effective. Having said that, my body needs to be constantly fine tuned in order for it to perform the way I intend. In addition to on court and cross training, I’m conscious of investing in proper recovery and injury prevention, which makes me inquire frequently about people with physical therapy backgrounds. Last year, my friends pointed me in the direction of VFE and I’ve been consistently working with Chris to make sure my body stays primed throughout training and competition. Most people find that sports massage / therapy is a luxury, but at any high performing level, I believe it’s a necessity. Knowing that I have a go-to plan to get my body right gives me the comfort to keep pushing its limits.
This sounds all nicely figured out, but my journey has been far from sorted. The path to being a professional athlete was not a straight shot. Before and after playing collegiate tennis at USC, there was a lot of questioning and doubt on whether I would be good or strong enough to play professionally. Thankfully I had the right people around me to help me build a level of tennis that I would have never expected from myself. There is a lot of work and dedication from different people that goes into maintaining my health and steering my identity as an athlete. Needless to say, a solid support system is key to get through the ups and downs of the sport. There is no way I could have kept it up this long if I went at it on my own. Five years into pursuing this daunting career, I’m still in love with what I do.