“She Always Reminds Me That I’m A Person First Instead Of An Athlete” | Coco Gauff Gains Strength From Grandmother Who Integrated Florida High School

Tennis phenom Cori “Coco” Gauff will play in her first US Open semifinal on Thursday night and while it will be a battle, it’s nothing compared to what her maternal grandmother Yvonne Lee Odom went through in 1961 when she as the lone Black student integrated Seacrest High School in Florida. Gauff credits her grandmother with giving her strength to use her platform as a famous athlete to champion causes she believes in and make her mark in the world, beyond tennis.

A Source Of Inspiration

“Yeah, I think she’s probably ‘the’ sole or one of the main reasons why I use my platform the way that I do and why I feel so comfortable speaking out,” said Gauff after her win in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. “You know, for those who don’t know, she was the first Black person to go to, it was then called Seacrest High School, she was chosen to integrate that high school, and she had to deal with a lot of stuff.”

Gauff spoke at the 50th annual World Tennis Association gala last week, celebrating 50 years of equal pay for men and women at the US Open, and the founding of the WTA by tennis legend Billie Jean King.

During the summer of 2020 when the country appeared to be at a moment of racial reckoning, following the George Floyd murder, Gauff spoke at protests in and around her community. She was only 16 years old at the time.

Mature Beyond Her Years

That Gauff is able to realize the importance of her platform as a Black female athlete, and that she can handle it all while trying to become the best tennis player in the world is a testament to her maturity. She has a sense of duty and an earnestness in her approach you rarely find in anyone.

“I think that happened like six months after Ruby Bridges did her integration. So, you know, she had to deal with a lot of things, like racial injustice. Her leading the way that she is and being so kind to everyone regardless of their background is something that I take inspiration from,” Gauff continued. “That’s why I always say I like to know everybody’s perspective. Whether I agree with it or not, I think it’s important to know everybody’s perspective because some people are raised in a certain environment and they don’t know any other way. She always taught me to approach every situation with kindness and understanding.

“For her to go through what she did during that time is something that I think what I do putting out a tweet or saying a speech is so easy compared to that, so that’s why I have no problem doing the things that I do,” Gauff added. She always reminds me that I’m a person first instead of an athlete.”

At 19, there is so much more Gauff has yet to experience and accomplish, but it’s clear that she has an understanding of who she is and what she wants to do. Values and a sense of self purpose instilled in her by her parents and her grandmother who did the impossible, 62 years ago.

On the court, Gauff is looking to do what she knows is possible. Win her first Grand Slam singles title. She faces Karolína Muchová on Thursday night for a spot in Saturday’s finals.

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