Feb. 6, 1997
Tennis is Way of Life for Gowen
By Kathleen Schlef
Once in a while, a true athlete is born. One with the talent, strength, courage, and perseverance to strive above adversities and attack a particular sport with a determination admired by those who have played before her and those who will follow her lead.
Senior Erin Gowen, captain of the Notre Dame women's tennis team and a native of Mercer Island, Wash., embodies the model of a true athlete. What makes Gowen standout is her passion for the game of tennis. To her, it is more than a sport, it is a way of life.
"I can't remember learning how to play tennis, it was just something I did," says Gowen.
Having a father who teaches physical education and growing up behind the athletic facilities of a high school, Gowen considered her backyard to be the six tennis courts owned by the school.
"My family and I were always out on the tennis courts," says Gowen. "I remember being so young that my dad had to cut off half of a racket handle so I could play tennis. I couldn't hold the regular sized handles, and they couldn't get me to stop playing."
A love for the game inspired this Irish athlete to spend hours on the courts developing a unique style of stroking and hitting.
"Until I got into high school, I didn't have a coach to teach me the right grips and strokes," says Gowen. "So, I developed a style of anticipating what the other person is going to do. My strokes are pretty ugly to look at."
"Her game has very unorthodox strokes, but she does everything right and at the right time," says Irish head coach Jay Louderback. "After we played Vanderbilt last spring, their head coach called me asking for a tape of Erin to show his team how she does the right things on the court."
Gowen made an impact as a freshman playing doubles all year. Unfortunately, an injury to her knee which tore her anterior cruciate ligament forced her to miss the end of that season.
"I was going out for an overhead when I injured my knee. It seemed like a long recovery to gain back my strength, but I recovered quickly," says Gowen.
"Erin is a very, very good athlete," says Louderback. "She works very hard and has a game different from others. Her quickness allows her to cover the whole court and to move very well. After she hurt her knee, she did an unbelievable job in the weight room rehabilitating."
Returning to the team, Gowen has spent the past two years serving as a leader of the team and as a recipient of many academic and athletic honors. At the end of her junior year, she was one of two athletes on the women's tennis team to receive the prestigious Intercollegiate Tennis Association's scholar athlete award. At the start of the 1996-97 year, her final season, Gowen was elected by her teammates to represent and lead them as their captain.
"Being elected captain was one of the most inspirational things that has happened to me. I was really touched. I love the team aspect of tennis. After four years, I have a role to contribute to them," says Gowen.
Playing both singles and doubles with her teammate Jennifer Hall, Gowen is "very excited" about this spring season. She hopes to improve her record and to raise the team's number six ranking from last year. At the start of this season, Gowen is among the top four players for the Irish and with her partner for doubles, she is ranked 23rd in the nation. Despite this, Gowen struggles with an injury that inflicts her good knee and forces her to wear a brace all season.
"It is hard to keep her from practicing," says Louderback. "I wanted her to take four weeks off for her to strengthen her knee, but she came to talk to me about letting her continue to practice. She plays a very athletic game even with the brace on her leg, and she maintains her speed which is such a big factor in her game."
"Through my injuries I have learned to appreciate how great this sport is and how much I love playing it," says Gowen. "I look forward to the practices, the road trips, and spending time with my friends. We have a lot of talent and a good attitude. We have a chance to do really well by taking it one match at a time. If you want to compete at this level, you can't have hang-ups about injuries. Play through it, or don't play."
As a true athlete, Gowen keeps fighting and playing the game she loves.