For recent Valencia graduate Ian Cho, tennis was never really his first option when it came to sports.
Cho didn’t start playing tennis until he was in fifth or sixth grade. Instead, he tried his luck at other sports.
“I was trying different sports, swimming, baseball, football, everything really. Then my mom said, ‘Why don’t you try tennis?’ At that point I was sick of it, I tried everything and nothing was suiting me,” Cho said. “I was hesitant, but I said, ‘Let’s just try it.’ I took some classes and thought it was pretty fun. I kept playing tennis and my dad said, ‘Do you want to seriously pursue this?’ At the time I didn’t know anything and I went for it. I kept practicing, practicing, I didn’t know how much I needed to sacrifice, how much time I needed to put into tennis, but I’m glad I did.”
Cho clearly made the right choice, as he capped off a four-year varsity tennis career with a stellar senior season, finishing 40-7 overall and 27-2 in Foothill League play. Under his leadership, Valencia finished undefeated in league and won the league title, the first in Cho’s high school career.
The All-SCV boys tennis Player of the Year was also crowned the Foothill League singles champion, defeating Hart’s Luke Papayoanou in a grueling match that went to a super tiebreaker set.
In the league final, Cho started to cramp up at the start of the second set and was forced to call a medical timeout. He battled through the injury and won the match, and was helped off the court by his teammates.
“Even when I got back home after that I couldn’t believe I pulled that off,” Cho said. “I remember one time at an individual tournament I started cramping, and I just completely gave up and I hated that feeling. So I thought, this is my last year I have to give it all I got, if I can’t even walk I’m going to do it. I literally couldn’t walk after that. I was very surprised that I was able to pull through. That feeling, after all the time I’ve put into the sport, it paid off.”
The fact that Cho started to play tennis later than most and was able to become such a complete player in such a short period of time is an impressive feat on its own. The fact he did it while dealing with something his whole life that most other tennis players, let alone most other people will never have to deal with, is absolutely remarkable.
Cho was born with amniotic band syndrome, or ABS, a condition that affects parts of the body as a fetus in developing, typically the arms and legs. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, ABS affects 1 in 1,200 live births.
Cho’s index, middle and ring finger on his left hand didn’t develop fully and he was also born with a cleft lip. During his childhood, he often felt out of place because of this, but as he started to get older he became more comfortable and is now able to speak freely about it.
“Growing up it was pretty hard because kids are immature, they don’t think before they say anything,” Cho said. “I would lie when I was little, or push it off and wouldn’t answer, I was really shy about it. As I got older people became more mature and more considerate, they try not to bring it up which I appreciate. It was hard in the beginning, but I’m learning how to overcome it slowly.”
Dealing with ABS has only made Cho stronger and more determined, and it’s also helped pave the way for a future career.
Cho, who will be attending the University of San Francisco in the fall, is planning on being a pre-med student and majoring in biology. Having been in and out of hospitals throughout childhood, he came to truly appreciate the importance of medical professionals and set his sights on becoming a doctor.
“My early childhood, I’ve been to a lot of hospitals because of this and I also had a cleft lip, had to get those fixed,” he said. “It influenced me to want to become a doctor. I think that’s where it comes from. I told my grandma and she said, ‘That’s good, we need doctors in the family.’”
The Valencia tennis star said he might dabble with the sport when he moves up north, but wants to focus mainly on his studies and meeting new people.
He also has a message for those going through similar difficulties that he dealt with growing up.
“Push through, face it head on. The more you avoid it the more uncomfortable you are going to be out in public,” Cho said. “Try your best to get out of your comfort zone and you’ll be better for it.”