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Driven To Succeed

By: Kristie Udovich

Valerie Collins, Towson University Club Tennis Team, Serve
Valerie Collins was born without a tibia
bone in her right leg.  Now in college, she
plays with a prosthetic leg and competes
with the Towson University Club Tennis
Photo: Kristie Udovich
Valerie Collins turns heads when she plays tennis not only for the talent and creativity she possesses on the court, but also for what she doesn’t have. Collins was born without a tibia bone in her right leg and, after nine months, her parents conferred with doctors and decided to amputate. Now Collins has a prosthetic leg, which, she notes, does not hold her back from anything.

“I tend to fall a lot,” says Collins, a member of the Towson club tennis team. “But that’s mostly on purpose because I want to get to the ball.”

Collins grew up in Fort Meade, Md., as part of an athletic family. Her parents played sports in high school and her twin sister, Tiffany, currently plays field hockey at Susquehanna University. Valerie was very competitive from a young age, playing a series of sports ranging from softball to volleyball before turning to tennis.

“My freshman year in high school I wanted to play softball,” Collins says. “Once I missed the meeting for that I thought, well, tennis is kind of cool.”

That year Collins made the varsity tennis team at Meade Senior High School and continued playing throughout her high school career, advancing so far as to compete in regionals with her doubles partner, Brittany Young.

The USTA’s Tennis On Campus program gave Collins a chance to stick with tennis upon starting college, and the rising sophomore has embraced the challenge. She plays multiple times a week and has traveled to matches against Maryland, UMBC and Villanova, among others.

“You can always count on her,” said Ross Friedman, the Towson club team captain. “She doesn’t like to miss practices and you can tell she works hard. Even if she did have two legs, the commitment and hard work she puts in is incomparable to others on the team.”

Of course, playing with a prosthetic leg has its challenges. Prosthetics have become increasingly maneuverable through the years, but Collins still sometimes has trouble adjusting on court. “Sometimes my leg gets all sweaty so it’s hard to suction on,” Collins says. “But I’m so competitive I go for everything.”

Valerie Collins, Towson Club Tennis Team, Baseline
Valerie Collins' teammate, Eric Swietlicki,
says of his teammate, "I don't want to
play her.  It's not that I'd feel bad about
beating her; it's that I'd probably lose."
Photo: Kristie Udovich
Constantly having to adjust means she has to work harder than the average tennis player, but Collins is learning how to compensate with other parts of her game, and many times her strokes alone are enough to beat a competitor.

“I’m getting into the thing where I can bend my knees a lot,” Collins says. “I’m starting to get up on those short balls easier.”

Says teammate Eric Swietlicki: “I don’t want to play her. It’s not that I’d feel bad about beating her; it’s that I’d probably lose. She’s always out on the court to win.”

Win or lose, Collins does draw crowds when she plays. She has grown accustomed to the attention and has no problem with showing off her leg, sometimes wearing shorts during the summer.

“I have no problem telling people what happened.” Collins says. “I start off by saying, ‘Hi my name is Valerie and this is what happened.’”

She adds that when she plays, “people make jokes sometimes, but I roll with it. I’m confident their intention is not to be mean. I have a pretty good sense of humor.”

Collins has humor enough to roll, fall and dive for balls on the court, then laugh at herself when she gets up. She doesn’t get hurt when this happens but people, especially during a club match, sometimes get nervous. “Most people are just overly concerned for me,” she says.

An inspiration to her team, Collins remains modest about the obstacles she has overcome and how she has become as successful as she is today.

“A lot of people have told me my attitude makes me successful,” Collins says. “I do have my moments when I get tremendously frustrated, but I go out determined to play and to grow as both a player and a person.”

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