“I taught myself to play by watching tennis on TV.”
In her early 30s, Mary Conaway says tennis was her lifeline. Raising young children at the time, Conaway picked up the sport and would meet up with a group of friends to play.
“We all had small children,” says the New Jersey native. “We would go to the park and play and the kids would play on the playground.”
From those early moments in the sport until now, Conaway has always had a passion for tennis. 20 years ago she made the decision to become a volunteer when she was a tennis director at a local parks and recreation department in Northern Virginia. At the time she managed 12 tennis professionals, oversaw the maintenance of outdoor courts and ran lessons, leagues, tournaments and tennis events for the local community. Despite a full plate as a tennis director, she started to volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Section of the USTA.
“I have been volunteering for USTA on a local level and at the national level ever since then,” she recalls. “Being in the tennis industry, I knew the importance of volunteering for the USTA – it was something bigger than yourself.”
Even a move to Naples, Fla. couldn’t stop Conaway’s dedication to tennis. As a newcomer to the Sunshine State two years ago, Conaway applied to join the USTA Florida Section Foundation’s Board of Directors as a way to meet new people and give back to the sport she loves. She was approved by the Board and currently serves as Vice President.
“Talk about a success story,” she beams. “The Foundation’s mission of ‘Changing Lives Through Tennis’ really does just that and I have had the honor of seeing it firsthand.”
The USTA Florida Section Foundation is the giving arm of USTA Florida. Conaway has been involved with several fundraisers and events for the Foundation and says every single one has been a rewarding experience.
“Fundraising is never easy but knowing your ‘why’ and understanding the Foundation’s mission makes fundraising easy,” she says. “You get to see where your money goes and the impact it has on the lives of others.”
Serving on the Foundation’s Board has given Conaway the opportunity to meet several of Florida’s finest in the tennis industry, both staff and volunteers. Her position as Vice President has also given her the fortuity to use her leadership development skills to facilitate team building activities and educational webinars.
Conaway’s involvement in Florida tennis doesn’t stop with the Foundation either. In 2019, she was asked to be part of the design team for USTA Florida’s Leadership Academy, a new initiative to recruit new volunteers for the section and increase engagement of current volunteers at the local and section level.
“We designed all aspects of the program as well as all the educational components,” says Conaway, who was the only volunteer on the staff-driven project. “It has been such a rewarding experience being able to share my leadership development and training skills with the participants.”
A theme reflected throughout Conaway’s volunteerism with USTA Florida is the connectivity to people – which is coincidentally her favorite part of the sport. She knows the lifetime sport of tennis can bring people together for just as long, which is why she loves to be involved.
“It’s a story you hear over and over,” she shares. “I volunteer to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. Tennis has a way of becoming ingrained in people’s lives.”
USTA Florida thanks Mary Conaway for her dedication to the sport, her commitment to helping “Change Lives Through Tennis” with the USTA Florida Section Foundation, and her passion to grow the game throughout Collier County and the entire state.
Birthplace: South Orange, New Jersey
Family: Husband John, children Katie and Kevin, four grandchildren and one on the way
Favorite Movie: The Blind Side
Favorite Food: Fruit
Favorite Travel Spot: Spain
Favorite Shot: Serve
My earliest tennis memory was… “When my children were little and it was a lifeline for me. The social aspect as well as the camaraderie made all the difference in my life. We had a group of 5-6 women all with young children. We would go to the park and play tennis while the children played on the playground. Looking back on those days, I realize how important a role tennis played in my life.”
If I could play tennis with three people, they would be… “Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Coco Gauff.”
When I am not playing tennis I am… “Going to Orange Theory.”
My best tennis memory is… “Going behind the scenes at the US Open.”
I like to volunteer in tennis because… “I am passionate about tennis and I love sharing that passion.”
Interested in volunteering in tennis? Visit www.USTAFlorida.com/Volunteers to learn more about available opportunities.