From Russia with love
International tennis player Elena Strakhova finds a home at UDM
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 12:02
Figuring out your future in three months is tough, but the way Elena Strakhova did it is pretty close to a miracle.
Strakhova is from Zarechny, Russia, a small city of 70,000 citizens.
In May 2010, she did not believe she would be going to college. By August, she was a student-athlete on the women's tennis team at UDM.
The stretch from May to August was one of the most hectic times in Strakhova's life.
Not only did she have to get noticed by tennis scouts from American schools, she had to fill out paper work for American legal documents.
Strakhova received some help getting recruited from an Eastern European company that helps athletes get noticed by American colleges.
In Strakhova's case, she was among 10 other Russian tennis players recruited by a group of tennis scouts.
One of the schools that wanted Strakhova was Brigham Young Uuniversity. But Strakohva's father did not want his daughter going to a Division II school for tennis.
"My dad wanted me to got to a place that took tennis seriously," said Strakhova. "Detroit definitely takes tennis seriously."
On Aug. 20, 2010, Strakhova landed in the United States at 11 p.m. She participated in her first practice the next morning.
"I was so embarrassed," said Strakohva. "I hadn't touched a racket since May because of all the paper work I had to do. I thought the coach would think I couldn't hold a racket."
Since that first practice, "things have gone up," she said.
Her freshman year she earned the coach's award for Most Improved Player. She also tallied a team-high five conference wins and helped the Titans secure a fifth seed in the Horizon League tournament.
Fellow teammate Julia Fernandes appreciates Strakhova.
"Having Elena on our team gives us some edge on diversity," said Fernandes. "It's nice to have someone to talk to from a different part of the world and understand their perspective."
Fernandes also values Strakhova's commitment to the program.
Since arriving, she has not gone back to Russia to visit her family, said Fernandes.
"It's amazing to me how someone with that much separation from her family somehow stays collected," she said. "It's something I really admire. I'm only four hours away from my family and at times I get homesick. She's accomplishing something great and it's a pleasure being her teammate in the process."
Strakhova admits it's tough being on the other side of the world away from home and family, but friendships here have helped.
Over the summer, Strakhova stays with the Klimas – roommate Laura Sullivan's aunt, uncle and family.
"I would not be able to thank them enough," said Strakhova. "They have been so nice and hospitable to me."
This past summer, the Klimas set up Strakhova to throw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game.
Strakhova said the experience was one of her best in Detroit.
"I couldn't believe how big the crowd was," she said. "The magnification of sports in the United States is cool."
Although most of her experiences in the U.S. have been positive, Strakhoba has had a few negative ones.
"I couldn't get a driver's license last year and I do not like unhealthy American food," she said.
This summer, Strakhova will visit her family for the first time.