Throughout Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, USTA Florida is honoring those that help grow the sport of tennis not only for the AAPI community but for communities across the Section and beyond.

Donna Small of Safety Harbor only started playing tennis later in life. Now at 59 years old, she works as a Tennis Instructor at the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. USTA Florida caught up with Small about how tennis has contributed to her life and how her heritage has shaped who she is today.

Tennis is clearly a big part of your life. When did you first pick up a racquet?

I started playing when I was 46. I took private lessons for 3 months. I ended up getting horrible tennis elbow and quit until the following October when one of my friends invited me to beginning tennis lessons at the YMCA. I ended up absolutely loving it and started playing tennis almost every day of the week. Some days more than once or twice.

What do you love most about tennis?

I love the fact that you can play tennis at any age. It keeps you fit and it’s super fun!

Does your family play tennis?

No one else in my family plays tennis. My brother plays golf as much as I play tennis.

What is your heritage?

My mother was Japanese and my father was from Kansas.

How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?

I grew up going to school with very few minorities. My family was the minority. Some of the children there were mean and used to call me names and make fun of me. It taught me to be more accepting of everyone, no matter what their race or beliefs.

Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Every Christmas we have, “Japanese Christmas”. Everyone in my family and extended family brings some type of Japanese food that they have made to share. We stay there and play games afterward. It is a fun evening.

Why is it important to not only support and celebrate other cultures, but be inclusive to all?

We are all human. We all have feelings and everyone deserves to be treated nicely.

What is your message for #NationalTennisMonth?

Get out and play tennis! If you don’t know how, take lessons or just hit the ball with a friend. It is a lifetime sport! What is the best part about playing this sport to you? I absolutely adore tennis! It has gotten me through rough times and has kept my mind occupied on the positives in life, when it was difficult to focus on those things. It’s great exercise and keeps me in shape because I love to eat! I have no idea what I would be doing if I never started playing tennis.

To learn more about USTA Florida’s diversity initiatives, click here.