The Omega Sports Women’s only podcast welcomes tennis veteran, enthusiast, and athlete, Kelly Gaines. Kelly shares her remarkable story of how she went from picking up a racket out of pure curiosity to the executive director of USTA NC. She is a true testament to what happens when you follow your passion and allow the puzzle pieces to fall in place. Tune in to hear her story and maybe even feel the sudden urge to pick up a racket and get out there and play!

Listen to the full interview on The Omega Sports Women’s Only Podcast. 

Kelly Gaines on The Women's Only Podcast

Tennis For All

There’s a common misconception that tennis is a sports club type of game, meant for only the wealthy and privileged. But that couldn’t be farthest from the truth. As Kelly states, “there are more people playing on public courts than there are in sports clubs, about 70% to be exact. Additionally, some of these public courts even provide equipment for those who are physically disabled, offering adaptive equipment so everyone can play recreationally!”

It is worth mentioning that tennis can add 10 years to your life. Yes, you read that right. Ten years! Tennis is one of the few sports that use almost every muscle in your body, including the brain. Not only does it improve your cardiovascular health, but it also stimulates you mentally giving you a full-body workout.

Girls playing tennis

A Happy Accident for Kelly Gaines

Kelly’s introduction into tennis happened rather unconventionally. What began as a way to distract her ended up becoming a career. At around ten years old, Kelly and her family moved to Burlington, NC from Warwick, Virginia. As the family was building their new home, frequent trips to their local Fleet-Plummer were made. Back then Fleet-Plummer was a hybrid plumbing and sporting goods store. As with any ten-year-old, Kelly would rummage around the store looking for anything to entertain herself when she happened upon the tennis section. There was a racket there that caught her eye that her parents willingly bought to get a moment of silence. At that point, she had no prior experience or connection with tennis, but that didn’t stop young Kelly. Luckily, her neighbor had a large chunk of cement that allowed Kelly to start practicing, jumpstarting her love for tennis.

Kelly continued to play tennis throughout high school, and though her goal was never to go pro, her ambition and talent continued to reward her. Always wanting to compete, an opportunity arose in women’s sports at William Peace University, previously known as Peace College, an all-girls school at the time. Kelly was offered a scholarship to play at Peace College, giving her the chance to finally cement herself as an athlete while simultaneously working toward her law degree. At the time, Kelly had no idea her future would center around tennis.

United States Tennis Association North Carolina & Kelly Gaines

During her time in college, Kelly opted to get a summer job. Naturally, she chose to teach tennis during a summer collegiate tennis camp. The camp consisted of kids from around the city, and while she still had her eye set on law school, teaching at Old Forest Racket Club is what held her interest.

1992 NC STate Women's Tennis

That following spring, Kelly was offered a position to teach at North Hills Club in Raleigh, which was quite the achievement considering women were not often chosen to teach any sport, much less tennis. Not long after, Kelly was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Not far from Raleigh was North Carolina State University, where the assistant coach was preparing to leave to play tennis in Europe. Having been a former teammate of Kelly, she knew of her qualifications and convinced her to apply for the job. To no one’s surprise, Kelly got the job. There she stayed as the assistant coach for men’s and women’s tennis up until there was a split and genders were separated into their own category, leaving Kelly as head coach for the women’s team. With the job came lots of travel and time spent away from home but, concurrently, that also meant meeting new people and some of the best players from around the country.

Towards the end of her time at Raleigh, Kelly was presented with yet another amazing opportunity – the chance to be executive director at USTA NC. By being in the right place and the right time, Kelly got the job, She has been there ever since.

Growth During the Pandemic

It is estimated that the number of tennis players grew by a staggering four million people during the pandemic. During the 3rd quarter of 2020, racket sales increased by 40%! Even Kelly admitted to having played more last year than any other year combined, partly due to having a break from traveling.

The overload of people got so bad that even high schools in the area had to chain up their courts because people were sneaking in. But why did the sport grow so much? Well, tennis is one of the few sports that can be played safely. There’s more than an appropriate amount of distance between players. Not only that, tennis players are made up of mostly family members. Meaning, there’s less of a chance of covid contamination.

United States Tennis Association of North Carolina and Omega Sports Partnership

Founded in 1973, the United States Tennis Association of North Carolina’s mission is to promote and develop the sport of tennis. By the late 1970s, USTA NC built a building that now holds the North Carolina Hall of Famers. For all these reasons, Omega Sports is proud to partner with them. If you are a USTA member, you get a 15% discount when you purchase any tennis equipment (excluding tennis balls). 5% will be donated back into the community. Redeem your USTA NC discount. Shop while contributing to a great cause!

Follow Kelly Gaines on Twitter or through the USTA Instagram!

Can’t get enough of the Women’s Only Podcast? Listen to past episodes with other great women.