Student-athletes at the University of Miami have to manage jam-packed schedules. Between classes, weight training, practices and games, they must exercise discipline on a daily basis just to get everything done in time to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
So when I asked freshman tennis player Estela Pérez-Somarriba about the difficult adjustment, it was surprising to hear that she didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
“You just really have to be tough,” Pérez-Somarriba said. “When I wake up, I don’t think negatively like ‘oh man, I have to practice.’ I just get up and do my best.”
Pérez-Somarriba is self-motivated, and working hard comes natural to her. It doesn’t faze her, and she doesn’t complain.
This mature mindset was instilled in her at a young age when she was growing up in Madrid. She credits her attitude largely to her hardworking parents. Specifically, her mother went through the difficult process of starting up her own winery five years ago.
“My mother is really tough,” Pérez-Somarriba said. “For me to see her everyday doing her best and sacrificing so much – she was a point of reference for me.”
This inspiration has always been a strength for the Spaniard, and it has shown. Despite first coming to UM with an injury that kept her out for over a month, Pérez-Somarriba has risen to No. 76 in the national rankings.
Pérez-Somarriba holds herself to a consistent mantra– “be better” – which leads her through the challenge of starting days with weight training at 6:45 a.m. and not going home until her last class ends at 7:40 p.m.
She admits her agenda does require significant self-control, but the results are worth it.
“Here, the coaches recruit you and have a lot of expectations,” Pérez-Somarriba said. “When you have to win a really important match, yes, I feel some pressure. But I feel that the pressure does make you tougher and allows you to handle different situations in the future.”
Pérez-Somarriba came to Miami with the goal of learning as much as possible. In about a semester and a half, she has already discovered that tennis at the U isn’t about the individual – it is about the team. Players are coached to always think about ways the team can improve.
“I felt that I needed to learn about other countries and other people,” Pérez-Somarriba said. “Here in the U.S., the mentality with the sport is so competitive. [The athletes] have a good mindset. They always want to win and work hard, and I love that.”
Although she wants to be a professional tennis player one day, the sport is not her only ambition. Pérez-Somarriba intends to major in either economics or sports administration with the objective of launching her own sports business in the future.
“My parents have supported me all my life and they know you learn a lot from tennis, but they also told me about the possibility of getting injured,” Pérez-Somarriba said. “A lot of things can happen. For me, not having a career option makes me more nervous on the court. Having a career path opens more doors for me.”
Pérez-Somarriba has taken the initiative to make moves down that path, improving her English by constantly engaging in conversations with others and even enrolling in a public-speaking course.
Even off the tennis court, her passion is steadfast and her dedication is strong.
“I haven’t had a kid really like that,” Associate Head Coach Laura Vallverdu said. “She passes that hurdle and just keeps going. It’s something special. I see her, and I don’t believe it at times.”
Pérez-Somarriba loves her life in Miami, but even someone with this much ambition needs a break from the strict routine from time to time. During stressful moments studying for an exam or writing a paper, she finds peace through her hobbies. She might ride her bike around campus while listening to music or take photos of what inspires her.
Through all her interests, tennis remains number one in her heart, and she dreams big.
“She’s already very mature at an early stage,” Student Assistant Coach Stephanie Wagner said. “She’s a competitor. She has goals for herself, and that’s very important. That’s what makes a good tennis player.”