A Sport for Life
Each born in a foreign country with early careers that began before the age of 10 – the three new Kickingbird Tennis Center instructors seem to have a lot in common. All three were enticed to Oklahoma by local universities with sports scholarships and each landed the perfect job at the same facility, as though their destinies were practically entwined.
Javier Easton, David Kepka and Juraj Sekera all started playing tennis at a young age. As junior tennis pros in countries without sports scholarships, they’ve all ended up in Oklahoma where they could play tennis and study at the same time.
The three champion tennis players attended three different Oklahoma universities. They have since graduated and teamed up at Kickingbird Tennis Center, where they now teach the sport they play so well.
Kickingbird Tennis Center is a public facility managed by native Oklahoman, Winnie Bushey. She’s been with Kickingbird for over 10 years and says she loves tennis because it’s a “lifetime sport that can be played by people of all ages.”
Javier Easton, the head pro at Kickingbird Tennis Center, also considers tennis a “sport for life.” Originally from Chile, Easton started playing tennis at age seven, when he began taking lessons alongside his dad. Soon, he was competing in tournaments and nationals and finished third in the nation as a junior pro. As he got older, he quickly discovered the challenge of trying to play and study at the same time.
Looking at other options, Easton headed to the United States to continue his education on a tennis scholarship. In 2004, he transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma, starring as an All Conference player for two out of his three years there and he even went to nationals twice.
Now he resides in Edmond and enjoys teaching tennis full time at Kickingbird. “I didn’t realize how important tennis was to me until I started teaching others,” he says, adding that working with children is his favorite part.
“I like watching the kids improve and seeing how they do in tournaments,” says Easton. “They develop as persons as well. Tennis teaches you organization and responsibility.”
It’s the individualism of the sport that also appeals to David Kepka, who won his first tournament when he was 10. “I love the speed and intensity, and the fact that you’re out there on your own – if you mess up, you can only blame yourself,” he says.
Originally born in the Czech Republic, Kepka grew up in Canada, where he was number one in the nation as a junior pro. “You have to eat, drink and sleep tennis if you want to be good at it,” says Kepka, adding that quick footwork is crucial. “You can have the best strokes in the world, but if you can’t get to the ball, it’s no good.”
According to Kepka, the most challenging part of competitive tennis is returning serves when they’re coming at you at 140 miles per hour.
Like the others, Kepka came to Oklahoma on a tennis scholarship when he began attending Oklahoma City University in 2001. His other accomplishments include playing in the French and Australian Open and winning the National Championship at NAIA.
“Canada has no athletic scholarships, like America,” Kepka explains. “I wanted to study and play at the same time.” He began teaching lessons part-time at Kickingbird while he was still in school, and then went on to work there full time once he graduated.
“I love introducing people to a sport and watching them end up pursuing it,” he says.
Juraj Sekera was born in Slovakia and first came to Oklahoma in 2003 when he was offered a scholarship to play tennis for Oklahoma Christian. He went on to lead his team in winning the NAIA National Championship that same year.
“During tennis matches you learn a lot about yourself, your own abilities,” Sekera says. “The challenge pushes you to get better.” An NAIA All-American in 2004 and 2006, Sekera graduated in 2007 and went to work for Kickingbird.
“I enjoy teaching mostly because I like to help people and I like to see them making progress,” Sekera says. “I like when I see a seven-year-old girl hit a serve for the first time …or a 45 year old adult finally beat his or her long time tennis rival … it is rewarding when you see your students do good and know you might have something to do with it.”
Kickingbird Tennis Center is located at the corner of Bryant and Danforth in Edmond. The complex contains 11 indoor courts, three outdoor courts, and offers both competitive and recreational lessons, as well as tournaments and
summer camps. Visit www.kickingbirdtennis.com for more information.