CHATHAM, NJ - After spending three weeks in the Dominican Republic working on local health care projects over the summer, Cameron Sims realized that her problems as a sophomore at Chatham High School weren't that hard to overcome.
"I really don't have any third-world problems," Sims said. "I only have first-world problems, like being tired from staying up late to finish my homework. It was a life-changing experience."
Perhaps, that is why Sims didn't complain when she developed "golfer's elbow" during the girls tennis season this fall and had to switch to an underhand serve about a month ago.
"I've never played golf in my life, but I have golfer's elbow," she said. "I won counties serving underhand. What I do is warm up by making soft overhand serves so that they don't know that I'm going to serve underhand. My opponents are really surprised and sometimes they don't even try to hit it back. I put a spin on it, so it's like a second serve."
The underhand serve hasn't held her back. In September, she won the Morris County Tournament third-singles championship. Her MCT title gave Chatham the decisive points as the Cougars won their seventh consecutive county championship.
Last Friday, the 14-year-old won her match in straight sets against Scotch Plains in a 3-2 Chatham win that put the Cougars into the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state final.
Cameron Sims in the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"It has been an amazing season for Cameron," Chatham tennis coach James Cai said. "She has become more mature and more responsible on and off the court. She is more coachable and able to execute our game plan/strategy very well on the court.
"She also had to fight through her elbow injury during the season and manage to stay positive during her matches. More importantly, she knows how to exploit her opponents' weaknesses and use her strong and heavy shots to put the ball away."
Chatham lost to Millburn in the state sectional final and Sims ended her 2019 campaign with a 17-2-1 mark.
"I know it sounds really corny, but tennis gives me life skills," Sims said. "My (private) coach (Dom Devaux-Lovell) told me that I used to just put in enough to win the point, I didn't put in anything extra. It's like school, you can't just put in enough, you have to put in more.
"Tennis is more than just how good your strokes are. Mental toughness, discipline and preparation are just as important. A supportive family and friends have always been keys to my success. Never give up and keep fighting through difficult situations are lessons that I learned in tennis and apply to the rest of my life."
Her older brother, Aidan. is a senior captain of the boys tennis team that won the Group 3 state sectional championship last spring. He and his first doubles partner, Dennis Isak, reached the state semifinals in the NJSIAA doubles tournament.
"Aidan gives me a lot of advice and I hit with him a lot," she said. "He also warms me up for my matches."
Two summers ago, Cameron and Aidan spent a summer living in Barcelona with a host family. She learned Spanish and Portuguese in the morning and did tennis training in the afternoons. She followed that with her Rustic Pathways trip to the Dominican Republic this past summer.
Sims uses her Spanish-speaking skills as a volunteer at Overlook Hospital, where she helps discharge patients and transport medical equipment.
"I want to go into healthcare and medicine," Sims said. "I want to work with people in third-world countries, improving their healthcare. I'm going to focus on academics in college and probably play club tennis. Right now, I really like Duke."
Sims expects her elbow to be at full strength for her junior tennis season in 2020 and she has the drive to keep improving.
"Consistency is a big issue," she said. "I miss a lot of shots because I go for too many winners. I'm an aggressive player and I have to learn not to take as many risks."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.