Knowing exactly what you want to achieve is great at any age, but for Isabelle Zhu, currently in Grade 6 at Ecole Cedardale, her dream, drive and discipline blossomed at an early age, setting her firmly on a path that keeps her busy 7 days a week.
In training as a high level tennis player, she has her heart set on a shot at the Grand Slams and the Olympics, with 6 more years of training ahead of her and a dedicated, athletic family behind her. She also excels in school, finds time for community involvement, plays volleyball on her school team and enjoys field hockey, golf, swimming, gymnastics and badminton.
Her mother, Julia Chen, was an international level professional badminton player in China and Canada, and heads the badminton coaching team at the Hollyburn Country Club. She shared stories about her professional competition experiences early with her children and introduced both Isabelle and her brother to a multitude of sports from an early age.
As an NCCP level 4 badminton coach, Julia helps Isabelle with her long term athletic development plan. Her father, Andrew, plays and enjoys tennis, and spends many hours practicing with her, taking her to tournaments and watching her competitions.
“My family is very involved and my mom is the most inspirational person – she teaches me not to lose focus, to keep doing what I’m doing and to never give up,” says Isabelle. “I am also inspired by Roger Federer, because his swings are amazing and he really knows what he’s doing on court.”
Isabelle, who transferred to Ecole Cedardale in Grade 4 to take part in the IB program offered by the school, takes lessons at the North Shore Winter Club with Tennis BC Provincial coach Nicole McLennon and at the Hollyburn Country Club with Tennis High Performance Director Neil Scantlebury. She is currently ranked 3rd in U12 girls in BC, and is competing in the third tournament of the Tennis BC Selection Series. Recently, she was invited to the 2017 U12 an U14 Provincial Indoor Championships – the top players competing in these four tournaments will be selected to represent BC at the 2017 Canadian Junior Indoor Nationals.
“I’m vying for a spot for the U12 Nationals, and if I do well there, I can go to the International Tennis Federation, a competition for teenagers – if I win there, then I could go to the Grand Slams or the Olympics – I’ve got about six more years of training to get there.”
Isabelle went to UBC to compete in the U14 selection series in late February, after finishing very well in the U12 games, which includes a finalist and a third place at the Selection Series tournaments.
“Isabelle showed real interest in tennis in 2014, after trying many other sports,” relates Julia. “She played a lot of tournaments in 2015 and 2016, and last summer won her first tournament in Whistler, fighting very hard in the summer heat for over two hours at the final – we were surprised by her effort and determination, and saw that she got a boost psychologically after the victory. She’s been more confident in competitions since then, and her coaches, her father and I are glad to see how well she’s developed in the last two years.”
Isabelle is an academically independent student who is passionate and curious. Together with her brother, Ethan, currently in Grade 4 at Ecole Cedardale, and four other friends, they started an annual fundraising Christmas Holiday card & craft sale in 2012 that benefits non-profit organizations. Last year, the group dedicated proceeds to support the Immigration Services Society of BC.
“I want to go to university, get a scholarship and get in by myself, and though I’m not sure exactly what I want to study just yet, I love social studies and art, and languages have been great for me – I think if you speak more than one language, you are very, very lucky.”
While the majority of her spare time is spent on the court, particularly in the summer months, Isabelle also thrives in the IB environment. She is involved in the school band, plays flute and piano, speaks four languages, plays field hockey with the local club and loves travelling with her family.
“You can go anywhere with tennis, literally,” says Isabelle. “And IB allows me to do more and go deeper than I could in a regular program. I love my teachers and the principal!”
Isabelle is looking forward to attending school at Sentinel, as the school has a tennis team, and she will definitely be looking closely at the district Super Achievers program.
Her parents, who immigrated to Canada from China about 20 years ago, have travelled with the children to Europe and Asia, and are headed to Thailand for a family reunion over spring break. Isabelle is very excited about the latest addition to the family, a labradoodle puppy named Max, who will soon be joining them on hikes around the North Shore.
All the best to you, Isabelle, as you train and compete over the next few years. By all accounts, you have a very bright future ahead!