July 2010 -- Shirley Mendoza Gearon, USPTA, has been involved in Houston tennis for the past 23 years. As a student, competitor and now teacher, she's come full circle in the game.
Ranked as high as No. 1 in Texas as a junior, she earned a full tennis scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where she played on the inaugural NCAA Division I women's team and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2000.
After graduation, she decided to return to tennis - something that had always been an important part of her life - because she believed the sport "held so much more possibility than simply hitting balls around."
Gearon, a USPTA Professional 1, returned to Houston, where she has worked at many of the city's top tennis clubs, including Westside, Piney Point Indoor, The Houston Racquet Club and currently The Forest Club.
The tennis possibilities for Gearon began to open up when she met Kim Richards in 2003. Kim and Don Richards are the parents of Katherine Richards, who is an accomplished Special Olympics athlete. The couple started the Kim and Don Richards Family Foundation, which helps fund Special Olympics programs, and in 2009 they asked Gearon to coach their daughter's team - the Houston Hot Shots.
From the very first practice Gearon said she felt a strong need to spread the game of tennis to all populations, including Special Olympics athletes. Coaching the special Olympians added a new dimension to Gearon's coaching skills and allowed her to enjoy the game in a different way.
In the 2009 Special Olympics Texas Summer Games the Hot Shots accumulated 11 tennis medals: five gold, four silver and two bronze.
Gearon has been elected to be the Team USA Special Olympics coach at the World Games in Greece. The games are set for June 25-July 4, 2011.
In the meantime, this busy pro is active on the USTA Texas Wheelchair Committee, volunteers with adaptive surfing and produces her own line of women's tennis apparel, K-Claw.