Jasmine Merali, a sophomore and member of the women’s tennis team, is no stranger to aches and pains since undergoing two knee surgeries and suffering a series of other tennis-related injuries throughout her career.
“I joke around all the time and say I am 18 years old and have a body of a 60 year old,” Merali said. “This past summer my family and I were painting the deck and after three or four hours we finally stopped. I said ‘Dad, my knees are hurting, my ankles are hurting, my back is hurting. I feel like an old person.’ My dad started laughing and said, ‘Your mom and I are feeling the exact same pain.’”
Merali said she received her first knee surgery, a meniscus repair, in her sophomore year of high school. A year and a half later, Merali went into the operating room again and had microfracture surgery.
“We took [Merali to the surgeon] and instead of [taking] a half an hour to come back out, two hours we are still waiting outside,” Salim Merali, the player’s father and professor at Temple’s School of Medicine, said. “That became very worrisome. So when he finally came out, he said he found something not very good. There was this big hole in the cartilage where the bone was touching the bone. So what he decided to do was use technology and have microfracture surgery.”
Still recovering from her injuries, Merali said she had one goal in mind when she came to Temple.
“Just to make it through practice without any pain,” Merali said. “After that, I just wanted to play and get involved in matches and get a couple wins. That was my goal, to be able to last.”
That goal, however, has not yet materialized. Merali has not yet been cleared to play this season.
“It was literally the second week we were back for spring semester,” Merali said. “The match I was supposed to play was a doubles match and the other team didn’t show up. That is when I re-injured my right knee playing a practice match. The doctor said I took the perfect step and clanked my bones together in my knee. I bruised my femur and re-irritated my meniscus.”
Having played competitive tennis since she was 8 years old, Merali said it has not been easy for her to watch on the sidelines while her teammates play the game she loves.
“It is hard to just watch because I have been watching for a year.” Merali said. “I do love watching tennis, but when you are watching for so long I get kind of jealous that everybody is able to play for the most part without any pain or anything. I have to wear a brace and it is often really painful. I get sore and I have to take these precautions, but even though I can’t play I try to live [vicariously] through everybody else. There are some days that are a lot harder than others.”
Her teammates try to be as supportive to her as possible whenever she is feeling down.
“I try to keep her happy and I think it works because she keeps smiling,” sophomore Minami Okajima said. “I would just make jokes to make her laugh.”
Despite everything, Merali has found other ways to be beneficial to the team while maintaining a positive attitude.
“Last semester, especially last season, I did a lot of feeding for both teams, feeding balls for drills,” Merali said. “Helping the team train is better than just sitting and watching, so at least I am holding a racquet. I also help to pick up balls, time whenever they have to time stuff on the official timer and little workout stuff like abs to the max, push-ups and whatever little things I can do on the court.”
“She makes sure we have everything we need, ask if everything is OK with us and cheers for us,” junior Rebecca Breland said. “Just be that motivator. She gets us water, if we need ice she would get it for us. If we need the trainer on the court she would go and get the trainer.”
She has even found a way to help the team off the tennis court.
“[Merali] is a good leader,” coach Steve Mauro said. “She has been helping out with a lot of the community service projects and also she is one of our [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] reps … She goes to meetings once a month and they talk about issues for student athletes, so she is a great supporter of the team.”
Most of all, injuries have not curbed her love for tennis.
“After all of this, she cannot stay off the tennis courts,” Salim Merali said. “In the summer, she was taking some summer classes and I would pick her up and take her home. Where I would find her? She would just be sitting alone on the tennis court watching the empty court.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.