Jenny Woyahn Excels On and Off the Tennis Court
By LUKE BRIGGS
On the court, the UW-Whitewater senior has compiled a 61-31 career record playing singles and has won back-to-back Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships at No. 6 singles.
Off the court, she owns a 3.5 cumulative grade point average as a student and has been an exemplary citizen in the Whitewater community.
Behind all of this, she suffers from an extreme challenge she experiences every day of her life - a hearing loss.
When Woyahn was born, she developed a severe case of meconium aspiration, which occurs when an infant takes meconium - the first stools - into his or her lungs before or during delivery.
Upon giving the diagnosis, the doctors who delivered her feared the worst. While most cases of meconium aspiration are not serious, the destiny of the infant is sometimes fatal.
Miraculously, Woyahn was able to survive on her own and ultimately suffered only a hearing loss.
But her parents didn't realize she had this disability until she was three years old.
"When I was a baby, I didn't speak," Woyahn said. "All of the sudden, when I was three years old, (my parents) realized I was really late and still not talking at the time."
She struggled through much of her early education due to her lack of exposure to the English language. Woyahn attended early childhood education programs to catch up with her speech, but she was behind other students at her grade level in terms of her education level.
"Elementary school years were probably my difficult years because I had to catch up with everyone," Woyahn said. "Everyone else was ahead of me."
Even with all of her difficulties in dealing with everyday life, she has always been able to enjoy tennis.
Woyahn's parents introduced her to the sport when she was three years old. Her father, Lee Woyahn, played singles at UW-Whitewater during the late 1970s and remains the only men's tennis player ever inducted into the Warhawk Athletics Hall of Fame. Woyahn's mother, Jane, was also an athlete at Whitewater in track and field.
Woyahn excelled in tennis at Waukesha South High School. She played No. 2 singles her freshman and sophomore years and No. 1 singles her junior and senior seasons. As a junior, she advanced to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 individual state tennis tournament.
"Tennis is a very quiet sport compared to basketball and others, so it worked very well for me to go into tennis," Woyahn said. "My parents both loved tennis and my dad, with his big tennis background...it was easy for him to introduce me to the game, so I just stuck with it."
When it came time to choose a college, Woyahn didn't think twice. Due to both her parents' ties to Whitewater, her decision was quite easy.
Lee contacted Warhawk women's tennis coach Frank Barnes about Woyahn playing at Whitewater, and the coach welcomed her with open arms.
"(Lee) told me that his daughter was interested in Whitewater, so I was happy about that," Barnes said. "When I talked to her, I found out she wanted to go to Whitewater. Her mom was a track star here and her dad was a tennis star, so she always wanted to come here."
As Woyahn has a hearing loss, her parents have been tremendously instrumental in her success.
Even though her parents are now divorced, she has stepparents who have been important in her life as well.
Woyahn's stepmother, Kim - a former Whitewater volleyball player whose father, Bill Berry, also had ties to the school as a former athletic trainer - and her stepfather, Kevin Allen, are both extremely active in her life.
"All four of them have been very, very important in my life," Woyahn said. They've been very, very supportive and really helped me, especially my mom. She really helped me through school and helped me with my study habits. If I didn't focus and get stuff done, I wouldn't learn to do that in the future in college. My dad's always been very supportive in my sports. They're really supportive and very, very important people in my life."
Woyahn began her career as a Warhawk on the bench, but she quickly worked her way into the varsity singles lineup due to the departures of a couple of singles players during her freshman year.
She thrived during her time in the varsity lineup - going 14-5 playing in the No. 5 and No. 6 singles flights.
Woyahn and the Warhawk tennis team have each won consecutive WIAC championships the past two seasons - Woyahn at No. 6 singles and Whitewater in the team competition. According to Woyahn, the titles have been especially rewarding for the three seniors on the team - Woyahn, Kara Amundson and Brittany Gering.
"(The back-to-back WIAC titles) mean a lot to all of us, especially the three seniors," Woyahn said. "It's so cool that we all finished up the four years and did well and were a part of the team. The team has gotten so much better every year, and it's so neat to be part of a team now that's just doing really, really well."
While she enjoys playing tennis as a Warhawk, she will get an opportunity to play for something even bigger.
Barnes received a phone call in October from an organization requesting that Woyahn try out for the United States Deafllympics' tennis team.
The Deaflympics are scheduled to take place in Taiwan - a small island off the East coast of China - in September 2009, and she is vying for one of the four spots on the starting team.
Woyahn will try out in December in Tucson, Ariz., for the team, which also takes two alternates.
"I'm going to go there and try out for the team and hopefully make it and represent Whitewater in the Olympics," Woyahn said.
Woyahn's tennis career at Whitewater isn't complete.
The Warhawks will participate in numerous tournaments and several single matches, and they will attempt to qualify for the NCAA Division III national tournament for the second consecutive season. In 2008, Whitewater was ousted by Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.) in a regional semifinal.
Woyahn hopes the Warhawks will advance further into the tournament - which takes place at Collins Hill Athletic Club in Lawrenceville, Ga., from May 4-24 - in 2009.
"Now, we're focused on the spring season, and we have matches that are important for that," Woyahn said. "We're really focused on trying to get to Nationals and doing better there because that's our next goal."
Aside from tennis, she has readily adapted to the social scene at Whitewater.
"Socially, she's very well liked," Barnes said. "She's got her teammates as friends. She also has her own groups of friends since she moved into the dorms. I know she had a great time in the dorms."
When she attends her classes, Woyahn almost always sits in the front of the classroom - where she lip reads the words of her professors.
Her choice for a major is business management, but even more compelling is her selection of a minor - Spanish.
"It is definitely a challenge to learn a whole new language especially since I am hearing impaired," Woyahn said. "It requires a lot of hard work and I really have to pay attention in class. I am still working on getting better speaking Spanish and holding a Spanish conversation orally. But that's why I decided to get a Spanish minor because I wanted to see if I can overcome this challenge."
Junior Ingrid Stensvaag - who plays No. 2 singles at Whitewater - was quite impressed with her selection for a minor.
"To me it seems impossible - especially with hearing loss," Stensvaag said. "I had a hard enough time learning another language, but the fact that she's able to learn another language is extremely impressive."
Woyahn has been actively involved in numerous campus organizations and has served citizens in the Whitewater community.
During her years as a Warhawk, she has been a member of the Student Athletic Advising Committee; she has taken on the duty as the vice president of communications for the Iota Epsilon Management Organization and she has served on a Web chair. Woyahn is also involved with "Reading for Warhawks" - an organization in which college students visit elementary schools in Whitewater to read to students.
While Woyahn graduates in May 2009, she strives to stay attached to tennis.
If she cannot find employment in the business management field with something in the realm of sports, she'd like to stay involved with the sport that has meant the most to her.
"I'd like to still get involved in tennis some way, depending on what my full time job is," Woyahn said. "If I have some time off or don't have to work all the way until 5, I might coach a high school team or - my sister's still in high school - so help out with her team for a couple of months. I'll work at a tennis club if I don't find a job in tennis."
In the summer, she became certified as a tennis teaching professional by the Professional Tennis Registry - an internationally recognized tennis teaching organization headquartered in South Carolina.
All of her accomplishments and ambitions have been inspiring to individuals in the Whitewater community, including Amundson - who plays No. 3 doubles with Gering.
"She has been inspiring to me in how she doesn't use her hearing as an excuse," Amundson said. "Some people might go for sympathy with any disability they might have, but she is able to go with the flow. I know I complain when I encounter things that might hold me back, but the passion she has for life holds her up and pushes her to be who she is."
Barnes found Woyahn to be inspirational in his life, as well.
"With how good she carries herself and, with people who are hard of hearing, I know what they go through and how hard that can be," Barnes said. "We take some things for granted. She goes through life not being fazed by the challenges."
Woyahn thrives in all aspects of life and is an exemplary citizen. She has inspired many in her days and will continue to inspire many more as she travels through life's journeys.
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