LA VERNE, Calif. — On a muggy June afternoon, La Verne tennis coach Yolanda Duron is serving up practice balls to her player and shouting words of encouragement.
But Duron's squad had wrapped up its season just a month ago and most of her players had gone home for the summer. The player on the other side of the court is Fabiola Aceves, a 27 year-old tennis player set to compete at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
Duron and Aceves connected through the local Special Olympics programs, in which La Verne student-athletes and coaches are actively involved. The Area Director of Pomona Valley Special Olympics put the player and the coach in touch in February and the tandem started training in May.
"It's been quite a ride and it's exciting that I get to help someone get her experience at the World Games," said Duron, who has been spearheading La Verne athletics' community service efforts as the advisor for the University's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Aceves, who is battling epilepsy and bipolar disorder, overcame big obstacles before finding her love for tennis. She came to America when she was 15 and wanted to play soccer, but became a target of bullying because she didn't know how to play the sport well. But Aceves, who has a vibrant personality and constantly cracked jokes during practice with Duron, quickly made new friends who taught her to play tennis.
"Tennis is my favorite because I learned to play from my friends," Aceves said. "When I first came here, other students bullied me. But my friends taught me how to play after school."
Aceves started playing in area Special Olympics three years ago and was selected to participate in this year's World Games after winning the singles division at Special Olympics Pomona Valley Fall Games in December 2014.
Aceves will parade with more than 6,500 athletes representing 165 countries at the Opening Ceremonies on July 25. She will compete from July 25 to August 1 and believes her training sessions with Duron will enhance her experience.
"I like training with her because she teaches me a lot of things and maybe I will win a medal," Aceves said. "But the most important thing is being a part of the World Games."
Duron is impressed with Aceves' dedication and abilities.
"Fabiola is driven," Duron said "Just like with any other athlete, you have to figure out key phrases and you have to break things down as you go along and she has taken coaching well."
Duron believes Aceves will thrive in tennis beyond the World Games.
"If she continues to play, she would have so much fun with the sport."