Senior tennis player Marli Van Heerden of George, South Africa, has used her passion for people and tennis to motivate her throughout each day as she aims to live her life based in faith.
When she was young, Van Heerden’s mom’s best friend wanted her own daughter to play tennis, and then asked Van Heerden to take lessons with her daughter, who was her age.
She played, fell in love with the game immediately, due in part to her natural ability. Her parents were both runners, so she gives her genetics credit for her running ability and athleticism.
She started winning tournaments early in her career and those teaching her to play encouraged her to continue.
She played in elementary school and competed in tougher tournaments as she got older and increased in skill.
When she played in the under-12 division, she was ranked number one in her country. She had a racket
sponsor, Wilson Sporting Goods, that encouraged her to play even more.
She played every year in the national tournament, and said she usually ended in the top four. Van Heerden finished second in the national tournament her under-18 year, and won the doubles national tournament.
Van Heerden said she was one of the few ranked tennis competitors in South Africa that wasn’t home schooled.
“I felt like I wouldn’t have been able to do homeschooling, because I’m super extroverted and love people,” Van Heerden said.
It made schooling difficult, because she traveled for many tournaments, but prioritized school as much as she did tennis.
“I think that [schedule]kind of led to being able to manage my time now as a student-athlete, because I grew up getting into that habit of time management,” Van Heerden said.
She was raised in George, South Africa with two younger siblings. Her parents, developed a love for her culture early on.
She speaks Afrikaans as first language, with English being her second language. She said in George they love
barbecue, and eat a lot of meat.
She said she misses summers being in December and winters being in June and July.
They also drive on the other side of the road in her country, which caused her some issues when she first arrived in America.
Upon high school graduation, she spoke with coaches from different schools and really liked UCA. She prayed about the decision and had a dream about UCA, so she decided to come to Conway.
“It was very important for me to go somewhere where I was going to be happy and the Lord wanted me,” Van Heerden said.
With her love for nature, the beauty of Arkansas is part of what drew her in. She said her love for nature, making friends and feeling that she was where she was supposed to be helped her adapt quickly to being in Conway.
She grew up in a Christian home and went to church, but really developed her love for God when she met some
friends in Arkansas that showed her that her faith was about a relationship over religion.
Van Heerden said she started to depend on the Lord and saw he was trustworthy and experienced his love,
which comforted her while she was away from home.
“Obviously, you need people and you need family,” Van Heerden said. “I love my family, and it’s very important
to me, but I feel like it’s the Lord’s love that’s kept me going.”
She is majoring in accounting and is scheduled to graduate in December 2019. She plans on getting a Master
of Business Administration degree after that, wanting to get an MBA. She plans to stay in Conway at least until graduation, but will use all of her athletic eligibility in the Spring 2019 semester, so she will only be a student for her final semester.
Though she won’t be playing professional tennis after college, she plans to play recreationally and continue enjoying it.
“At first I thought I could never imagine my life without competitive tennis, but the Lord’s taught me that it’s not
who I am, so I can do anything, basically, and still be considered good enough or loved by him,” Van Heerden said.
Photo by Marley Cash-Powell