Sophomore tennis player Aaron Clissold tells how he found his way to Oregon from the Land Down Under
By Eilise Ward
Five months ago Aaron Clissold wasn’t sure if he’d be able to continue playing tennis for the University of Oregon. Every time he ran, played a match, or lifted weights too hard his head would get foggy and his vision would become blurry. Soon after these first symptoms appeared on the tennis court, Clissold was diagnosed with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, a dangerous disorder for any athlete to have.
Clissold, who’s from Ruse, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, came to the University of Oregon in the winter of 2010. He has been playing tennis from the age of eight, when he first picked up a racket as a fun hobby. When he was 10 years old, Clissold and his family realized that he was actually good and that he might have a future in tennis. He blossomed from there and by the time he was 15, his coach at the National High Performance Academy quietly mentioned to Clissold’s mother that he thought her son had a good shot at going professional.
As Clissold sits sprawled freely on a glass bench at the Jaqua Center for Student Athletes, he absentmindedly twirls a tennis racket through his freckled fingers, occasionally stopping to thump his head with it. This doesn’t hurt him because he’s got a thick, curly mop of hair, and when I ask him if that’s part of his signature look that will make him famous one day, he laughs and says, “Maybe mate, it does make me pretty memorable.”
When Clissold graduated from Leumeah High School in June of 2008, he had a life-changing decision to make. He could either continue playing tennis and try to go pro, or he could attend university in Australia and play tennis in casual local tournaments. Clissold knew the chances of making it as a professional were slim; he would need to work his way up to being ranked in the top 200 players in the world, pay $100,000 right off the bat, and dedicate his life to traveling and training. The pressure of the decision was too overwhelming for then 18-year-old Clissold and his supportive family, so he decided to take a year off of school and train really hard at NHPA while he thought about what his goals were in life and whether going pro was actually what he wanted.
During that year Clissold was on fire; he was playing well in local tournaments and practicing the hardest he ever had in his life. The hard work paid off and United States universities began contacting Clissold to see if he would be interested in joining their teams. Even though he hadn’t really thought about going to school so far from home, Clissold thought it might be worth a look. After months of scouting and visiting various universities, he narrowed it down to his top two choices: Texas A&M University or the University of Oregon. It was important to Clissold that he attended a large public university that had an active student life and competitive sports teams. “I wanted to go to a school that had a great football team, a large student body, a fun atmosphere, and just live the real American college life,” said Clissold as he stretched his tennis racket over his head, laughing as he added that he thought American college life would be just like how it’s portrayed in American films. In the end he decided the University of Oregon was the best fit for him because the coaches seemed nicer, and because most sports are successful here as it’s one of the best schools for student athletes. Clissold decided that attending university in the U.S. was the best option for him because it would allow him to continue playing tennis for the next four years instead of beginning the long, grueling, and rarely successful journey of attempting to turn professional.
Clissold races back and forth across the clay court as he shows off some of his best moves. In between hitting balls faster than I could turn my head, he tells me that tennis has always provided him with a great outlet for his energy. “Lots of kids where I grew up smoked pot and did drugs and I avoided all that because I had tennis to keep me focused,” he says between hits. Now that he’s at the University of Oregon where he’s majoring in Business, being a member of the tennis team provides him with a tight social group of friends and a gateway to keep improving his game. Although he loves his new American life, Clissold sometimes gets lonely for Australia where he left behind his family, friends, and manly rite of passage to drink beer at 18. His arm gets a little limper and his face falls as he tells me how much he misses the support of his family. “They were always there for me with whatever I wanted to do concerning tennis. I knew they would be behind me 100 percent no matter what decision I made, “ he says while missing his first ball of the practice session.
Clissold hasn’t let his high blood pressure stop his game. He eats healthier, drinks lots of water and conditions properly for his matches. After multiple inquiries, doctors have given him the green light to pursue his number four ranking on the University of Oregon team. After he graduates, Clissold plans to go back to Australia and play low-level professional tournaments in which he can earn up to $6000 per entry, on top of having a career in the business world. He wouldn’t mind being a tennis coach and says, “whether it’s at a social or professional level, tennis will always be a part of my life.”