Hurricane Maria crashed through Puerto Rico as a category four storm a year ago with 175 mph winds. It destructed the small island community, a community that Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) freshman Alexxa Etienne was a part of.
Etienne proved she wasn’t one to give up so easily, which is how she earned her spot on the SNHU women’s tennis team.
Etienne’s family pushed her onto the court at just four years old. Her sister, who is four years older, started at the same age, so she followed in her sister’s footsteps.
“At first I didn’t want to get onto the court – I started crying every time they put me on. Then one day it just happened. My sister’s coach just grabbed me, put a racket in my hand and started to throw balls at me,” said Etienne.
At eight years old, Etienne began playing in tournaments that required she and her family to travel around the United States. There weren’t too many tournaments in Puerto Rico so she was chosen several times to represent her home.
Her goal later became to get scouted, so it was a matter of finishing high school and playing in tournaments like she had since she was eight.
Then hurricane Maria hit. Her family never could have predicted how destructive the category 4 storm would be.
Etienne’s home town of Bayamón was not spared from the disaster. Many buildings were left flattened. Trees and powerlines were grounded. Luckily Etienne’s family only experienced flooding in their home, but the community was left with a challenging recovery.
Infrastructure, including gas stations, were immobilized.
“…the lines were so long because [the gas stations] didn’t have any gas,” said Etienne.
The school that she attended, a tennis academy, was over an hour away. It just didn’t make sense for her family to bring her there.
Given the extreme circumstances, Etienne she had to make a choice. She could stay in Bayamón and take a gap year after high school and the risk not getting recruited, or she could go to Florida for school, giving her the opportunity to study what she wanted to.
Taking the advice of her family and of four of her coaches, Etienne made the move to Florida to attend Florida Virtual School, an online school, while working with a tennis academy.
“I’ve always been away from home, it was normal for me, but getting used to not having my parents there was totally different,” said Etienne.
The hardship paid off, as Etienne was recruited by SNHU. Etienne is now studying Business Administration.
“I love playing here. The team is awesome. I’ve never seen a team get along so well,” Etienne said. She had the same praise to give to the men’s team.
With nine matches under her belt and a recent 7-0 win against Franklin Pierce, Etienne has high hopes for the season though she understands there’s still work to be done. The team is hoping to make it to the playoffs.
“We’re not out yet, but we’re not really in either,” said Etienne.
Etienne says her main goal, however, was to get along well with the other girls, because a team plays better when they get along. Etienne is happy to say she’s found a family in the team.
Challenges like hurricane Maria only made Etienne stronger. Her tennis career is in full swing at SNHU and she is thankful to be apart of such a family-oriented team.