April 16, 2014

Medina
Partly cloudy
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Bees’ Ali Garrity has put together a great career

Ali Garrity is taking something she learned on the tennis court and applying it to the rest of her life. If the results are anywhere near as good, she’s going to be a very successful — and happy — person.

En route to becoming the first four-time Gazette MVP in girls tennis, Garrity learned to stay in the moment, to attempt to concentrate entirely on the point she was playing instead of worrying about the previous one or the next one.

Medina senior Ali Garrity is the 2012 Gazette MVP for girls tennis. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE)

It paid off nicely, as the Medina High senior went 25-5 in her final prep season and earned a second straight trip to the Division I state tournament.

“When I started playing, I used to worry about the previous point or the next point, even the next game or match,” said Garrity, who compiled a 90-23 record while occupying the top spot in the Bees’ lineup all four years. “As I got older and more experienced, I learned to stay in the moment.”

The fun-loving, low-key Garrity is now expanding that theory to many aspects of her life. Take her college education, for instance.

Puh-leeze, take her college education, she will tell you with a laugh.

Not only is Garrity undecided on a college, she has no idea — actually, she has a zillion ideas — what she might want to major in.

“My interests are all over the place,” she said. “If there was a major that said, ‘Everything,’ that would be my choice. I would pick that one in a heartbeat.”

For many teenagers, such uncertainties might create tons of stress. There could be parental pressures, sleepless nights, hasty decisions and, ultimately, bad choices.

Not for Garrity. She has a lighthearted personality that allows her to laugh at her situation, but also a nearly Zen-like quality in that she can let things be.

“I don’t feel like I have to know what I want to do with the rest of my life right now,” the 17-year-old said. “Some kids say, ‘I’m going to be a doctor,’ and they’ve known that since they were little.

“Sometimes I wish I had that mindset, but a lot of people don’t really figure out what they want to do until they’re 30 and out of college. A lot of people don’t even do what they majored in for a living.”

Picking a college is important, of course, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. So is selecting a major. Having scored a 27 on the ACT, Garrity is smart enough to know this, but she is also savvy enough to realize there’s no guarantee her first choice in either — or her second or third, for that matter — will be what is best for her.

So when Garrity sits down at the dinner table with her father Dave, who owns his own kitchen exhaust cleaning business, and mother Valerie, a project manager for affordable housing, their conversations run the gamut.

“They say, ‘What about this?’ and ‘What about that?’” Garrity said with a laugh. “I usually get up and walk away. No, I’m just kidding. They try to help, but they know I’ve got to figure it out for myself.”

Tennis, which could net Garrity a full ride to a Division I school, is involved in all those talks, but it doesn’t dominate the conversation nearly as much as many people would think.

“It’s my tool to get into some colleges,” said the talented 5-foot-5, 125-pound left-hander, who has visited the United States Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy and has plans to visit Army. “I’m banking on a scholarship and looking for a school that has a lot there.

“I’m not kidding. I want a lot of majors.”

Since she was a freshman, Garrity has dreamed of attending the University of California, Berkeley, and getting involved in the film industry as a producer, floor director or even a stagehand. With a cousin in the industry, she went so far as to take an unofficial visit to the school two years ago.

“That’s still my dream, but the tennis team is a little out of my league,” she said. “They have blue chips from Russia coming over (to play).”

Garrity, who has plans to visit Siena and Florida Tech, is also considering pursuing a degree in political science. This possibility came up after a particularly rewarding high school civics class.

“I used to hate politics,” she said. “Now, I’m more interested in it. I’m not saying I want to run for president or anything, so don’t write that, but I definitely enjoy it.”

Engineering is in the picture as well, though Garrity has not even thought about choosing between mechanical, chemical or industrial.

This interest came about over the summer when Garrity continued a family tradition of completing an Outward Bound project.

Older sisters Kelly, 27, and Rebecca, 23 — more on them in a moment — went on mountaineering expeditions prior to their final year of high school, while Garrity’s father did the same thing “back in 19-something.”

Wanting to be a little different, Garrity chose a 22-day sailing adventure off the coast of Maine. Part of the group project entailed spending two days completely alone on an island with minimal supplies.
“You just sit there and think,” Garrity said. “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

The other 20 days were spent on a 30-foot boat with an instructor — she happened to be an engineer, by the way — and 10 other students.

“You spread the oars out and put a mat on them,” Garrity said. “That’s how you sleep.”

It was on that trip that Garrity not only developed a sudden interest in engineering — noticing the trend? — but also discovered she has a lot of natural leadership qualities.

“Five days in, you were on your own,” Garrity said. “In tight situations, you had to call your own shots. That feeling came pretty easy to me. Other kids would ask me, ‘Am I doing this right, Ali?’ They looked at me as a leader. I have to admit, it was nice to have other kids my age look to me for guidance.”

That may have happened because Garrity never pretended to be something she wasn’t. If she didn’t know the answer, she admitted it, yet still had the presence of mind to formulate an educated guess.

That down-to-earth, keep-it-real ability — plus a huge dose of common sense — also served Garrity well as a freshman, when she was already far and away the best tennis player on the Medina varsity but also the youngest.

Only 14, she knew the seniors were the leaders of the team, but that she would always play the toughest match. She neither bragged nor felt sorry for herself about this, because that was just the way it was going to be.

“Growing up, I was a shy person and stayed with my few close friends,” Garrity said. “My whole goal in high school was to open up and make a lot of friends. I knew tennis was going to help with that. My freshman year, I was hanging out with seniors, and I felt very fortunate I had those girls to have my back.

“That paved the way for me. I wanted to become that girl the freshmen looked up to. I wanted to be the girl they looked at and said, ‘I can’t wait until I’m a senior.’”

When freshmen do that, part of their thought process revolves around thinking that senior has everything figured out, that nothing fazes her, that she doesn’t get nervous about anything.

When it comes to Garrity, what many of those freshmen don’t know is that she is uncertain what is next for her. What they really should know, though, is even that is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

“Maybe I’ll go somewhere for a year or two and see if something sparks,” Garrity said. “I’m kind of spontaneous. I go with the flow and take things one day at a time. If I think too far ahead, I get overwhelmed.

“That’s what tennis taught me: Stop thinking too far ahead. Either your mind can change or something can change it for you.”

With one sister 10 years older than her and another six years her elder, Garrity has seen firsthand how life can play out.

Kelly, who owns a communications degree from Kent State, now works with at-risk youths on an organic farm in Hawaii. Rebecca, who is pursuing a master’s degree in education, works as a teacher’s aide and junior varsity gymnastics coach at a Pittsburgh high school, but dreams of opening a day-care facility that incorporates youth gymnastics.

Most important in Garrity’s young eyes — and the wise ones of her extremely supportive parents — is that both are happy.

“Experience things when you’re young,” Garrity said. “If you make mistakes, make ’em while you’re young. Don’t go into some major just because you think you should do it. Do it because you want to do it. If that takes a year to figure out, or if it takes majoring in something and graduating and not wanting to do it at all, then so be it.

“People make mistakes all the time. That stuff is not life or death.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.