Forty years ago, SAP employee Marlene Hecker’s mother signed her up for tennis lessons. She immediately showed some affinity for the sport, but eight years in, grew tired of it and started playing other sports before returning to competitive play in her 20s.
For Marlene, playing tennis turned out to be more than just a hobby. It was her passion. Recently, she played in the ITF Seniors World Team Championships in Finland, the highest ranked event on the circuit for competitive players aged 50-60. Read on to hear how this determined SAP Account Executive, who covers database and data management solutions, made it happen.
Tell us about the ITF World Team Championships and your experiences there.
It’s still a bit unreal to me that I was selected to play. The ITF World Championship games are for competitive athletes – masters, they call us- who play at an elite level. It’s a way for those who played in the professional tour to keep their skills and abilities sharp, while still staying active.
Based on the results recorded from the previous year, the ITF chooses the top four players in the country and invites them to the games. In 2015, I won both singles and doubles provincial championships and placed second in the western nationals for singles. It was a great year for me as an athlete, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn I ranked among the best in my age bracket in Canada.
What an incredible accomplishment! Was playing competitively, or even professionally, a personal goal for you?
Not really. My mom introduced me to tennis when I was 9 and I fell in love with it. I showed some ability relatively quickly, and I was playing in competitive tournaments by the time I was 12. I ranked fifth in the province of British Columbia at age 16, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I took a break for a number of years before returning to it after college. And while I competed over the next 20 years, it was only in the last six years that I set a goal for myself to push my limits and try to get to the World Champs.
It sounds like a lifetime dream you only just realized. What was your plan to get yourself to the Championships?
You’ve heard the old adage that practice makes perfect. For me, it was exactly what I needed to do to get to the next level. I hired a coach and trained with him 90 minutes a week. I worked with a personal trainer and committed to a new fitness routine to get my body in top shape. I increased the number of games I was playing to six or more per week.
But it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, at one point, getting to the Championships seemed unreachable. I redoubled my efforts last year and pushed myself even more mentally and physically and I started seeing progress. A turning point was in the 2015 provincial championships when I finally won a match against an opponent I had never beaten, and won the singles and then went on to win the provincial doubles as well. These wins were a huge motivator for me to keep going!
The old adage practice makes perfect is just what @SAP_Marlene needed to get to the next level
Talk to us about the events you played in in Helsinki.
I’ve played both singles and doubles throughout the years, but I went to the Championships as a doubles specialist. The partner I played with is someone I know from Toronto. I’m based in Vancouver, so we didn’t get a chance to play together before we got to the Championships. It took a bit of practice to get synced up, but we did well. We played four matches during the week, against teams from the United States, Finland, Australia and Ireland. We placed ninth with 19 teams competing. I rank 65th in the world and 39th in doubles. It’s so humbling to see my name among these fantastic players.
Tell us how SAP helped you get to the Worlds.
I received an outpouring of support last year when I made it to Nationals, with some special attention from colleagues I know who play at the same tennis club I do. I’m able to work a flexible schedule so I can make sure I have the time to put into tennis. Most days, I wake early and start working by 6:00 am so I can get the practice time I need. If something pops up, I can pick things back up in the evenings. It’s a challenge, but I am so grateful I work for a company that gives you the flexibility to help you achieve those personal goals.
Working for a company that offers flexibility helped @SAP_Marlene achieve her personal goals
Photos courtesy of Marlene Hecker.