| By Brian Coleman
Photo Credit: Alex Liu/NYJTL

 

When she was just five-years-old in her native South Africa, Liezel Huber’s mother put a tennis racket in her hand for the first time. From that moment on, Huber was in love with tennis, and throughout her life, has used the sport as a vehicle to give back and help others.

She now does so as the Executive Director of Tennis at The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in the Bronx, a full-time position she took upon last fall.

Huber, the owner of seven career Grand Slam Doubles Titles, got her start in tennis because of her parents, and from an early age, it was evident that she had a special talent.

“I was learning a lot quicker than the other kids,” Huber recalls. “Becoming a pro was never the thought, but I thought I could be a good, disciplined tennis player.”

But as she got older, she got better, and when she was 15-years-old, she moved to the United States to compete in the Orange Bowl. There, she was noticed by Dennis Van Der Meer, Founder of the famous Van Der Meer Tennis Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., who offered Liezel a scholarship to train at the Academy.

It was a difficult transition for Huber, being in a new country and in a completely different environment at such a young age.

“You learn to grow up fast,” Liezel said. “I didn’t know how to cook, so I ate a lot of cereal and eggs. And going into a training environment of six hours a day, and coping with what kind of person you are going to be. People assume you go to an academy and automatically become pro, but you are still a kid. So I grew up fast, and I am ever so grateful for the opportunity I was given at that point.”

Huber would go on to have a decorated playing career, winning three WTA Tour Doubles Finals titles and reaching the world number one doubles ranking, in addition to those seven Grand Slams. But she was always grateful for the opportunity she was given when she was younger, and thought about what she would do to give back after her playing career ended.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

“While I was playing, I was always doing other things,” said Huber. “I started my own non-profit, and my own health and nutrition company, so I always had things going on when I was playing.”

Along with her husband Tony, who is now the Director of High Performance Tennis at Cary Leeds, the two wanted to create their own tennis center.

“The thought was never to become the teacher, but really to pay forward the knowledge I had,” Liezel said. “It would be a waste of our talents if we didn’t share the knowledge we had with others.”

And last summer, the perfect opportunity to “pay it forward” arose when the two joined Cary Leeds as the top tennis directors.

“Cary Leeds was put here for a reason. We were brought here for a reason, and we are so lucky to be able to work in this $28 million facility in a location that has such a special ability to reach people in the community,” said Liezel. “We work with local school and it is a privilege. We don’t know the daily struggles of what these kids go through and what they see, so it really is a privilege to help them.”

Liezel and Tony have brought their passion and enthusiasm to Cary Leeds, and have developed the programs very rapidly in recent months. One of the first things Liezel and Tony wanted to do was to grow their Red, Orange, Green, Yellow or “R.O.G.Y” Program. That program has quadrupled in size, as Cary Leeds has embraced what the USTA is doing in developing 10 & Under Tennis.

“It is about exposing the kids to tennis,” Liezel said. “The future of the tennis center is the young ones, and developing it from a grassroots level.”

The focus of the Hubers and The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning is to continue to not only serve the community, but be a part of changing people’s lives for the better.

“We truly are a community center,” said Huber. “I want people to know that your needs will be met here. Our mission is very clear: To change peoples’ lives through tennis and education. Going beyond tennis, we want to have computers here so kids can get work done, and to have S.A.T prep classes for the students. The need will be there for the commercial client, but the true need is for the community, and we have seen the difference that The Cary Leeds Center has made in the community. And we feel that need: Our donors, our board, our staff. Everybody comes to work at Cary Leeds and NYJTL knowing that we have a jewel to polish. And every day I come to work, I am grateful for this opportunity.”

 

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com