Behind the Dores: Emily Smith

The senior tennis standout from Birmingham, England is cherishing her final months on campus. She plans to remain in the States after graduating – but will always retain a soft spot for her hometown, English chocolate, and her favorite Indian restaurant.

My dad is American. He’s from New Jersey. He played college basketball and then went to England to play pro ball. He met my mom and stayed over there.

My mom played basketball, too. She played for a team called the Plymouth Raiders, which is one of the teams my dad played for in England. That’s how they met.

My dad tried to get me to play basketball when I was younger, but it never really stuck. I still think I’m a little bit of a disappointment on that front. They’re like, “Yeah, she can play tennis, but she can’t play basketball.”

I came over to the U.S. a lot as a kid. Multiple times a year when I was really little, then just in the summer as I got older. I was very familiar with being in the States. Mainly the Northeast. We also went to California and Florida a handful of times.

My granddad had a beach house near Atlantic City. My family said I was like a fish, I spent so much time in the water.

Also, I used to play in a lot of tournaments here. [Vanderbilt teammate] Christina Rosca and I played against each other in a tournament when we were 10 years old.

There are many stories of me being overly competitive as a child and getting so worked up. My old coach loves to tell a story about our team being in the airport playing cards on our way to the States. Knowing how competitive I was, everyone got together and decided to mess with me a little bit. They were cheating and trying to get in my head. It worked like a charm. I got so worked up about how it was so unfair that everyone was cheating against me.

There are times when I still want to win a little too badly. We can be in a big match and Coach Geoff Macdonald loves to remind us that at the end of the day, it’s a game. He does a good job of helping us maintain perspective. We are so fortunate to get to play tennis at one of the best schools in the country.

I wouldn’t say it takes the pressure off. We all have a decent amount of pressure we put on ourselves. But it does help with perspective. When we get wrapped up in it too much and the nerves start showing, he reminds us it’s a game, enjoy it, and it helps us get back to that happy medium. That enables us to play better.

I’ve never met a guy that is so knowledgeable about so many different things as Coach Macdonald. We’ll do trivia to decide who practices on which courts. We’ll sit there with bated breath to see what the question is going to be. How does he even think to ask those questions? Sometimes, we’ll go up to his office and he’ll be reading the paper and tell us how to read the financial section of the newspaper. So many life skills you learn from him.

He doesn’t just care about you as a tennis player, he cares about you as a person, and he makes that known. He’s happy to share whatever he knows, whether it’s tennis-related or not.

I’ve changed a lot since I’ve been at Vanderbilt. When I first came here, I didn’t really know what I was all about, who I was, and what I wanted to be as a person. Recently I’ve given more focus to wanting to be a leader, wanting to develop sides of myself that have been there but not given much attention. I really enjoy doing community service and I’ve dedicated a lot more time to that my senior year. I really enjoy going to Cross Point Church, and then I’ve developed some close friendships with some of the girls on the soccer team. Cultivating relationships has become an important part of my life and something I’ve had so much fun doing.

My boyfriend is in the U.S. Army stationed at Ft. Campbell, but now he’s serving in Cameroon. He’s not been gone long and there’s a long road ahead. I’ve really leaned on my teammates, and Coach has been so understanding. It’s not easy, but it’s something that the community I’ve found here has really helped me deal with. I never thought I’d be in this position. Finding myself in the deep end has been difficult.

I love country music. I was on Broadway the other day for a job interview and the sun was shining, there were so many people outside, and all I could hear was country music. I thought, “This is so cool.”

Ultimately, I would like to use my marketing and PR talents in either the nonprofit realm or maybe even for a church.

I definitely want to stay in the States. I think when I first came to the States, my parents suspected that I might stay here long term. They might end up retiring here anyway. It would be nice for my whole family to end up here.

For me, I’ve always loved being in the States. I love England, it’s always going to be home, a place I feel a special connection to and I’m going to want to keep going back to. But I have a life here now. Since I do have an American passport and can stay here easily, it’s not something I want to give up.

I love my hometown of Birmingham. It gets a bad rap from people in England. It is industrial, but it has a bit of everything. It’s a slightly smaller, cheaper version of London without all the touristy stuff. We have a cool canal system that in the summer is beautiful. I will always have a special place in my heart for Birmingham.

The Indian food in Birmingham is insanely good. There’s a place five minutes from my house, and it’s phenomenal. Whenever I go home, one of the first nights I’m back we eat there and one of the last nights before I come back here we eat there. It’s a tradition in my family. They understand the love affair I have with this restaurant.

What I always bring back from England is chocolate. English chocolate is phenomenal. My favorite is called Galaxy. Everyone knows about Cadbury and the purple wrapper, but Galaxy is where it’s at. It’s the smoothest chocolate. I often bring some back for people on the team. I’ve slowly been getting other athletes on campus to try it and get everyone to see the light.

My faith is a big part of who I am and has become a really important factor in dealing with difficult situations when I’m on court. Trusting there is a plan and I’m doing everything I can. I’m in good hands.

I am getting sentimental. We’ll end up having our last team bus ride and senior day coming up shortly. It is going to be something that I cherish. This has been a really cool, important part of my life and a very transformative part of my life.

I will try and cherish these last experiences I’m going to have with a cool group of girls.

Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss