Former Tennis Player Andrea Jaeger Shows Compassion to Cancer-Stricken Children

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's a long way from Wimbledon's Centre Court to southwest Colorado. For Andrea Jaeger, the spiritual journey has been even longer.

At 14, she was a pig-tailed phenom, brandishing every stroke in the tennis repertoire with a swagger that rivaled Jimmy Connors's.

Most times, nothing thrilled her like winning -- especially if she felt she had a point to prove. Other times she was so tortured by the cost of success that she didn't try -- including, she says, intentionally losing the 1983 Wimbledon final.

Now 43, Jaeger rarely picks up a racket or reflects on the era when she toppled legends of the game but had no friends, traveling the world with a father-turned-coach who believed that discipline, often in the form of a firm whack, was the most effective teacher.

Today, the teen once ranked No. 2 in the world and on track to unseat Chris Evert atop the sport is an Anglican Dominican nun, ordained in 2006, and devoted to helping children with cancer.

They are the reason she has given away every dollar she earned, shed her possessions and devotes her days to raising money to bring them to a Colorado ranch to ride horses, play Ping-Pong, perform in talent shows and, if only for a few days, share a childhood otherwise denied.

If Sister Andrea thinks about professional sports at all, it's of the prodigies like herself -- children whose uncommon gifts have thrust them into an adult world. Whether Michelle Wie, Freddy Adu or a 75-pound Olympic gymnast, today's phenoms have teams of advisers she never had -- agents, business managers, publicists, trainers and nutritionists.

But who, Sister Andrea wonders, takes care of their souls?

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Jaeger wasn't the first prodigy in women's tennis; she was preceded by Tracy Austin, the Southern Californian whose pinafores and bows accentuated her pre-pubescence.

But Jaeger, who turned pro in January 1980, at 14, was different. Daughter of a German bricklayer, bar owner and former boxer, she learned the game on Chicago's hard courts and played with bravado. She blasted her forehand, rare among female players at the time. She was a shrewd tactician. And she delighted in dragging out points to wear down her opponents.

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