Rookie of the Year: Paula A. Medina Perez

 

 

The annual Justas LAI are rapidly approaching and with that, the end of this year’s athletic season. As we anxiously await this year’s finals, let’s take a look into the Rookies of the Year from 2017-2018. Paula A. Medina Perez is a second-year animal science mayor who plays the second position on UPRM’s tennis team. She is from Villavicencio, Colombia but has been studying in Puerto Rico since 2017 and has represented UPRM for two years now. She began her athletic career as a roller-skater but switched to tennis and began competing at 8 years-old after seeing her sister play. Medina’s father has his own tennis academy in Colombia in which she developed and refined her skills before coming to Puerto Rico in 2017.

Medina moved to the island only a few months before Hurricane María struck and to say her parents were preoccupied would be an understatement. It was the first hurricane season she experienced since Colombia is not a tropical country. She spent the duration of María with her coach and left for home a week and a half later. The week she spent without any source of communication in the island was even worse for her mother who thought she was dead. When Medina was able to reach her mom, she asked her to come home, she said, “when I returned to Colombia [my parents] where already searching for Universities there.” But she refused, not because the universities there are bad, but because she wants to be more independent than she would be so close to her family. “Being here has made me stronger and more responsible and able to do things myself, my mom doesn’t do everything for me anymore,” said Medina with a laugh.

She came to Puerto Rico following her sister’s footsteps because, even though she had offers to another University in the United States, she preferred the similar Latin culture that Puerto Rico has to offer. Yet, even in a familiar culture, there are still many differences she had to deal with. For Medina, the biggest struggle she had to overcome was the differences in the courts she played. In Colombia, she was used to playing on clay tennis courts but in Puerto Rico the courts are synthetic or “hard” courts which she had never experienced. She had to learn how to run on synthetic ground. “I would run, and I felt that I was going to fall,” said Medina about the most difficult change for her as an athlete. But eventually she got used to running on a different court and restored her game to its full potential.

 1 persona, practicando un deporte, tenis y exterior

Nevertheless, Medina does not allow this to affect her development in the court. “I’m there to do what I need to,” she said setting aside any doubt in her athletic prowess. Still, her mother never missed a game when she was in Colombia which something she thinks about before the games. Her mom is her motivation to keep playing. She calls her before every game and gives her a pep talk. But the moment Medina steps in the court, everything goes away, her full focus is on the game.  

At any rate, the most difficult part of moving to Puerto Rico has been not having her family close to her. She has no relatives in the island, but her coach has always taken care of her. “She’s always attentive to whatever I may need,” said Medina about her coach, Joanna Ortiz. That doesn’t mean her family doesn’t worry about her 24/7. Her mother calls her every day to see how she’s doing and if she wants to return home. Her father calls her constantly as well but, as her former coach, his questions tend to be more about her training.

 una o varias personas, personas practicando deporte, tenis y exteriorAt age 16, Medina played in the Confederation of South American Tennis Cup (COSAT) with no ranking whatsoever against the #1 ranking player in the tournament. She won this game and began to be recognized in the league. Because of this, she found a partner with whom she reached the semifinals. These competitions in Colombia created a sort of rivalry between the players which is why the competitive LAI circuit is such a breath of fresh air for Medina. “The competitions here are grueling but the worst ones I’ve played in Colombia,” she said.

The training routines for the UPRM Tennis team is also quite different from what Medina was accustomed to. In Colombia, she trained one on one with her father while here she trains with her four teammates with is less intense. The whole “team” experience itself something that Medina had never experienced before. She traveled and competed on her own, but this new structure is one that she likes and believes she is good at. “The victories belong to all of us and the loses too,” said Medina about what she’s learned playing in a team.

 1 persona, practicando un deporte, tenis y exterior

 

Before every game, Medina gets really nervous while she’s warming up and usually needs some words of support from her friends to help calm her down as well as a bit of music. “I always listen to music from my country, vallenatos and cumbia,” she said while expressing her love for Colombian music. She also, ritualistically, prepares her own Gatorade from a powder she brings from Colombia since they are sweeter than the ones from Puerto Rico.

 

Throughout her two years representing UPRM, the team has won a gold and a silver medal. Although she prefers to win gold, Medina is proud of her team and all the hard work they have put into the competition. She has two more years to compete, let’s see what the future holds for her next season.