Watching from the spectator seats in her tennis uniform, she shouted encouraging words to her teammates as they played against Florida State Jan. 18.
At the end of the match, unassumingly, she talked to her teammates about their performances and chose a “star of the week” for the team. She then indicated why, as the team clamored around her attentively.
Charlene ‘Tad’ Kambarami, 19, a junior broadcast journalism student from Harare, Zimbabwe, is that important to the women’s tennis team.
Tennis has been as natural as breathing to Kambarami.
In fact, she has come from a legacy of tennis players. Both her parents, Patricia and Bobby, played tennis competitively, and her uncle is serving his fourth term as the current president of the Tennis Association of Zimbabwe.
Since freshman year, Kambarami has won 80 percent of her matches. She is a team captain and is focused on riding the road to success.
However, the road has not always been smooth.
Throughout the years she has been playing, the wear and tear on her body started adding up.
While she was winning her matches, she was losing the cartilage in her knees. At first, she dismissed the pain as many athletes do, but then the turning point came.
“I really started feeling the pain a lot more,” Kambarami said. “I couldn’t take the pain anymore and I figured it had to be fixed before it was too late,” she said.
She went through doctor’s appointments, referrals and diagnoses, and last November, she had surgery on both of her knees for torn cartilage.
She has slowly been recovering and if her progress remains positive, she expects to be back on the courts sometime in February.
Kambarani hopes to be back in time to play in the MEAC Championships.
The feeling is mutual with her team. Her coach, James Hargrove, maintains that her presence and personality will solidify the team and give them the drive to win the MEAC Championship.
“We can’t wait until she gets back to solidify the team, because she is such a knowledgeable player and a real force on and off the court,” Hargrove said.
“She really wants that ring and that title, and I think her determination will rub off on the rest of the girls.”
For someone who has been active on the tennis roster since freshman year, Kambarami maintains being on the bench wasn’t as hard as she thought.
She believes this feeling is due to the level of compassion and involvement that her teammates bestowed on her.
“It didn’t make sense to be miserable over the situation, so I tried to encourage my teammates,” Kambarami said.
“They would come for advice, to see how I was going, and encourage me. It felt like I was playing but not quite playing.”
Her upbeat personality and perseverance are important factors in defining who Charlene Kambarami is today, and she credits this to her grandmother, Anna Chingoka.
“She has always been there to understand me and to help me persevere,” Kambarami said. “She has always given me advice, and I thank her for being there for me.”
It has been a new experience being on the sidelines, but it has made her a stronger person for herself and for her team.
Now ‘Tad’ is definitely ready to move on, to face the challenges up the bumpy road to success.