By Dan Johnson, ITA Director of Communications & Marketing
The decision to step back onto a tennis court and compete was not an easy one for Prim Siripipat.
Ravaged by injuries while a member of the Duke University women’s tennis team, Siripipat thought she’d left the sport behind and dove head-first into building her professional career, a move that brought her to Bristol, Connecticut, where she’s currently seen and head on a variety of ESPN television broadcasts and radio programs.
After doing some self-described soul searching, Siripipat concluded two things: 1. She wasn’t happy with the way her tennis career ended, and 2. She was going to do something about it.
With encouragement from her now-husband (Ben Aronson), Siripipat decided to take the journey back to tennis a step farther and is documenting all the ups and downs along the way.
Recently, Siripipat spoke with the ITA about her journey back to competitive tennis, as well as her broadcasting career at ESPN.
Question: How did you come to the decision to step back onto the tennis court in a competitive sense?
Answer: It took me a long time to get to this point. At the time when I left Duke, I was ready to step away from the game and start something new. My body wasn’t in great shape due to the injuries I’d sustained, so I thought it was the perfect time to capitalize on other opportunities, because I knew how hard it would be to try and make it on the (professional) tour.
As time went on, and I learned more about sports and about myself as a person and an athlete, I began to do some soul searching and it was then, around last May, that I realized how much weight I had been carrying regarding how I had left the sport, and that’s where everything started.
Q: During your soul searching, was there a specific sign you received that perhaps help you in the decision-making process?
A: I dreamt of tennis every day for two months. I mentioned to Ben (Aronson, Siripapat’s husband) the dreams I was having and knew that I had to do something with tennis. I felt the dreams wouldn’t stop until I went back and finished my business.
Q: Your husband played a big part in the decision to film your return to tennis, correct?
A: Yes. During our conversation about my thoughts of wanting to return to the sport, Ben asked the question ‘What if we document the journey and have you talk about what you’d do differently?’ We have the goal to make it a docu-series, with the finale being a documentary.
Q: Was the thought of filming your return scary?
A: I was mortified (laughs). I didn’t want to tell anyone about the project. Once you say a goal out loud, you hold yourself very accountable. Ben was very excited to tell people about it, and he was very motivated. For me, it is deeply personal and mentally I wasn’t 100 percent on board. Tennis was such a huge part of me; it brought me a lot of love and a lot of hate, and going back on the court meant having to face that again. I was reticent about taking that leap forward, but each day I grew more comfortable with it and Ben was the fuel behind the engine. He comforted me and said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to. I don’t know what will happen from it, but I can’t not do it.
Q: After months of training, you would go on to play your first competitive match. How did you feel as that moment approached?
A: I was a nervous wreck and I couldn’t sleep. Three days before the match, I flew to Seattle to do my first NFL Countdown piece for ESPN, so I was juggling a lot of pieces. I won 6-1, 6-0 and it felt like I ran a 57-mile marathon. Everything has gotten easier after that.
Q: Speaking of ESPN, they appear to have been very supportive of your journey. Is that accurate?
A: ESPN has absolutely been supportive. As long as there’s no conflict between what I’m doing for them and what I’m attempting to do on the court, there’s no issue. Everyone at ESPN loves sports and a majority of the employees are former athletes, so they understand the journey I’m going through. A lot of people at ESPN are intrigued and some can empathize with what it feels like to gain the closure you want with your athletic career.
Q: How has it been juggling your professional aspirations with your personal tennis journey?
A: I’ve found it to be pretty easy. I am a health nut, and was always working out before work. The only difference now is that I’m supplementing in tennis practice and conditioning. Something I learned at Duke is time management; you have to make every single minute of your day count.
Q: Your journey from Duke to ESPN is an interesting one. Can you walk me through it?
A: I knew that I wanted to stay in sports, but in what capacity? I interned with the Philadelphia Eagles in sports marketing and public relations while at Duke. After I had my three surgeries my junior year, one of my professors mentioned that he thought I should look at getting into television. At the time, not a lot of people at Duke got into TV. I flew to Bristol in 2001 during Spring Break and shadowed Linda Cohn, who gave me some excellent advice, which was that if I wanted to be on-air talent, I needed to go to a smaller market, get my mistakes out of my system and then come to ESPN.
Once I graduated, it took me three months to get an internship, and I went from intern to news producer, sports producer, sports anchor and then made the jump to a station in Miami for three years, and then to ESPN.
Q: From tennis to college basketball to the NFL and radio, you’ve been involved in a lot of shows and projects at ESPN. Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do there next?
A: A lot has happened and my goals are ever-changing. You set a big goal and once you get to the top of the mountain, you have to re-calibrate. What now? I set a goal to eventually work for ESPN, and that was it. Now I am in the mode of re-calibrating and figuring out what the next step is. The landscape of this industry and at this company changes so quickly. One thing that’s for certain is that I’m very fascinated with the psychological side of sports and would like to continue to pursue that, whether it be stories, features or a show.
Q: In what ways did your time at Duke prepare you for life after college?
A: Everything I do today, I feel like my experience at Duke laid the foundation for who I am today, not only as a person, but an athlete and businesswoman as well. I learned to be part of a team. Tennis is an individual sport and it was a huge adjustment for me. I learned how to be a good teammate and saw what it took to be a good leader as well; I learned a lot from my teammates.