Shaira Hope Rivera, a 24-year-old tennis sensation and a bronze medalist at the Hanoi 2022 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, shares her advice with fellow athletes: "Never give up on your dreams."
Shai, as she is affectionately known, has just accepted a full varsity scholarship from the University of West Alabama, USA.
After a challenging 27-hour journey from Cebu City to Birmingham, Alabama, with a layover in Japan, Shai arrived on Thursday, January 4.
She is set to begin her studies in Sports and Fitness Administration Management, with classes starting next week.
In a Facebook call interview with SunStar Davao on Friday, January 5, Shai expressed her belief that her journey to the U.S. is part of the Lord's plan.
She encourages athletes to be patient and never push themselves for anything.
"Have patience sa opportunity. Muabot ra gyud ang para nimo. Ayaw i push nga imoha na, paabuta kung will ni Lord (Patience is key when it comes to opportunities. What's meant for you will come at the right time. Don't force it; wait for the Lord's will)," she said. "Dapat stay humble. Dili malimot sa Ginoo. Pray gyud unsay plan ni Lord sa imong career (Stay humble and always remember God. Prayerfully seek what the Lord has planned for your career)."
Despite considering the cultural differences and initial homesickness, Shai accepted the offer from UWA women's tennis head coach Jeff Beaman. Her decision was influenced by the support of those close to her, who urged her to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Having declined earlier offers to study and play in the U.S., Shai believes that now is the perfect time for her to embark on this new chapter in her tennis career.
Coach Beaman, after watching Shai's impressive performance in the FedCup 2020 doubles event in New Zealand on YouTube, reached out to her with a full scholarship offer, including board and lodging. Shai's excellence in the team competition for the Philippines during the same event caught his attention.
Before making the offer, Coach Beaman gathered positive feedback about Shai from people around her. Shai expressed gratitude for the opportunity, mentioning that her aunt in Hawaii generously covered her travel expenses.
In a UWA Tigers newsletter, Coach Beaman commended Shai as an outstanding doubles player with a track record of competing in high-level tennis tournaments for the Philippines. He is optimistic about the capabilities of his team, which boasts experience and depth.
Shai started playing tennis at Monkayo Central Elementary School when she was 10 years old.
Her prowess became evident when she became a Palarong Pambansa doubles champion in 2012 in Lingayen, Pangasinan, representing Davraa.
Following this success, Shai's life took a turn when Sta. Ana National High School coach Marivic Loquinario invited her to Davao City, offering refuge from the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo in her home province.
During her two-year stay with SANHS, Shai secured gold medals for Davao City in regional meets and for Davraa in Palaro.
Continuing her academic and tennis pursuits, Shai became a Philippine Tennis Academy (PTA) scholar, completing her junior high and senior high education at De La Salle Santiago Zobel.
Throughout her five Palarong Pambansa appearances, she garnered four gold medals and one silver.
She then joined the Ateneo de Manila University tennis varsity team as an AB Literature freshman.
Amid the challenges of online classes during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, Shai temporarily paused her schooling but remained active in tennis as a member of the national team.
Among her notable achievements are the bronze medal at the Hanoi SEA Games and a runner-up finish in the Fed Cup 2020 in New Zealand. Shai's success extends to being a doubles champion and singles runner-up in the 2019 Malaysia Open Tournament, a semifinalist in the China Invitational Team Tournament in Yumming, China, in October 2018, and claiming six PCA Open doubles titles. Additionally, she holds a Philippine National Games singles gold medal and numerous championship titles and runner-up finishes in open and age-group competitions.
Shai expressed her gratitude, first, to God, for his unwavering support and for Coach Beaman, who played a crucial role in making her journey to UWA possible. She extended her thanks to Romy Chan of the Philippine Tennis Academy, recognizing it as the breeding ground of her dreams.
She also acknowledged coach Marivic, whom she claims was the first person who believed in her capability as a tennis player;
her parents and family; Jess Burahan for financial assistance during her ACL injury; her aunt's husband David Craddick for helping her while in Manila, her girlfriend for handling document processing; and Dr. Edgar Eufenio for a successful operation.
She also thanked everyone who has contributed to her success as an athlete and as a student.
When duty calls
As a proud member of the national team, Shai is ready and willing to continue representing the Philippines in events like the SEA Games or Fed Cup.
She underscored Coach Beaman's support, affirming her commitment by saying, "Mudula gihapon ko for the Philippines kung ila kong kuhaon (I will still play for the Philippines if they will have me)," she added. MLSA