Relocating for chance: Local family allows tennis-driven children golden opportunity

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 8, 2014 

Petra Miszcza

Petra Miszcza, 12, practices tennis,Wednesday, June 4, 2014, at Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club in Blaine. Miszcza was recently accepted to the Bolletteri Tennis Academy, where she hopes to pursue her dream of playing professionally.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

A year ago, Petra and Liam Miszczak vacationed to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy for spring break in Bradenton, Fla., a small town south of Tampa, in the hope of experiencing a world-class tennis facility.

Little did they know tennis legend Nick Bollettieri, who has coached Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and the Williams' sisters, would summon them to hit balls for him. After several minutes of playing tennis in front of Bollettieri, he gave them a thumbs up.

Petra, 12, and Liam, 16, would be granted the opportunity to attend the academy full-time.

"I could not have been prouder in that moment," Liam and Petra's mother, Leslie McDonald-Miszczak said in a phone interview. "It was a pretty amazing moment. It didn't feel real to find ourselves there. It was a surreal moment indeed."

The entire family will relocate to Florida on August 1, and although it's a big move, McDonald-Miszczak is comfortable giving her kids the opportunity to play tennis at a high level in exchange for relocating.

"It was a very tough decision," she said. "We love life in Whatcom County. It was a decision based totally on the opportunity. ... This is a critical age for both of them. It's now or never so we're going to give it a try."

For Liam, moving across the country while in high school will be tough and he'll miss the friends he's leaving behind, but he'll make new friends, he said.

Petra and Liam have been playing tennis for three years and just started ramping up in the competitive side of the sport over the past year.

After excelling in tae-kwon-do, the two were looking for a sport they could play closer to home. Traveling to Bellingham from Semiahmoo didn't particularly appeal to McDonald-Miszczak and her husband, so it was either golf or tennis.

The two chose tennis and started training with Eric Cramer at Semiahmoo. Liam also plays for Bellingham High School.

"It's a really fun sport to play," Liam said in a phone interview. "I have a lot of fun going out on the court and hitting the ball around."

The two continued progressing through the sport and showed a lot of talent.

For their parents, it was always tough to balance between motivating them and pushing them too hard.

"I think that's something you have to work on and evaluate every day," McDonald-Miszczak said. "The level of training is pretty much a daily thing. You want to make sure you're encouraging that they see through their commitments, but you really don't want to overstep bounds and make it too intense."

So McDonald-Miszczak tried to leave the coaching up to the coaches and focus on being a parent, which meant a lot of driving her kids around.

If she or her husband ever saw something within their game, they would talk with the coaches, but never to the kids directly about it.

At one point, Liam was struggling with his play in tournaments and didn't feel like he was competing at the level he wanted to, so he took a break from tournaments and focused on getting better.

The decision came from Liam and his coaches, just as the decision to go to practices and training has always come from Petra and Liam. But both are so passionate about the sport, McDonald-Miszczak said it's never been an issue.

"Neither (have) ever complained about going to a practice or training session," McDonald-Miszczak said. "It's something the kids have had a super-positive attitude about."

The sport has only impacted Liam and Petra in a positive way and much more than McDonald-Miszczak would have ever expected.

Due to the individual nature of the sport, tennis has helped Petra and Liam address their strengths and weakness, McDonald-Miszczak said.

"It's been the most amazing way to see them develop character," McDonald-Miszczak said. "They just seem to be very mature. I think tennis has helped with that."

McDonald-Miszczak saw the talent, too. She thought her kids had potential, but with Liam, it wasn't until his first tournament win in the Bellingham Junior Open that McDonald-Miszczak knew he had a future in tennis.

With Petra, it was the way she carried herself after a loss that caught McDonald-Miszczak's attention.

"Even if she loses, she doesn't get down on herself and doesn't lose interest in training. She picks herself up right away," McDonald-Miszczak said. "You can see this kid is super serious about game and she's not giving up until she gets to where she wants."

Petra hopes to eventually play professionally and Liam plans to play with a NCAA Division I program. The hope is that the Bollettieri Tennis Academy can take them to the places they want to be.

"I am just over the moon," Liam said. "I just am excited to go and just have a great time. I think its going to be great."

So on August 1, the family will leave the Pacific Northwest and head to Bradenton, Fla., a mere 3,200 miles away, to better two young athletes' chances at achieving their goals in a sport they love.

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