How does an athlete who has spent so much of her collegiate career on the sidelines have nothing but a smile on her face talking about tennis? Let’s ask Sabrina Loui ’25

Loui is a junior on the Brandeis women’s tennis team and a well-known face around campus. Hailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, the junior studies Biological Physics and is highly involved on campus. She serves on the executive board of the Student-Athletes of Color Group and works in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center. Despite strong performances in her first year, Loui’s athletic career at and prior to Brandeis has not been completely smooth sailing. 

Since she was a kid, Loui was inspired by tennis stars, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, noting their work ethics and respectful attitudes as central to their influence on her. She mentioned an admiration for their “method of just putting your head down and getting to business and not making a show of it.” 

Following discussing her tennis inspirations, Loui’s face lit up at the opportunity to talk about one of her biggest non-tennis influences. Loui credits her role model and close family friend, Lillian “Pokey” Richardson, formerly Watson, for the never-ending support she received growing up. Pokey, who Loui affectionately refers to as “auntie” and “the most badass person I know,” is an athlete as well and one of the youngest ever Olympic gold medalists, taking home hardware in swimming at both the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games. 

With the guidance of these figures, Loui was able to find the strength and grace to overcome the physical and mental setbacks that she has endured in her athletic career. 

In Loui's freshman year of high school, she began to have pain in her right shoulder. She was forced to serve underhand in doubles and pull out of singles in the championship that year. Throughout high school, she did physical therapy exercises and had inconsistent bouts of pain that would fade with time, a pattern she hoped would not worsen. Towards the end of her first fall season at Brandeis, the pain came back and was exacerbated during the team’s February trip to California.  The exercises and rest that had previously managed her pain for years were wholly unsuccessful. 

Upon returning to campus, Loui got an Magnetic Resonance Imaging and spoke of the lack of professionalism by the doctor who, upon a cursory examination of the test, diagnosed her with tendinitis and prescribed exercises, rest and oral steroids. After following this program, she saw little to no improvement and returned to tennis, serving underhand and playing through the pain. There was a look of stark determination in her eyes when she told me she “just wanted to play.” In the face of injury, she just barely missed a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament and received All-University Athletic Association honors from the UAA for her performance. 

Home for break, Loui spent that summer resting and doing physical therapy exercises to no avail. Just before returning for her sophomore year, she went to a different doctor for a second opinion on her MRI results and remembered that she “immediately started crying” when the doctor saw a labrum tear within moments of looking at the same MRI from earlier in the year. 

Back at Brandeis, Loui was in for a taxing recovery process. After getting surgery in October 2022, she spent five weeks in a sling and struggled with the structure of her physical therapy as she had to travel to a clinic while juggling a busy college life. 

As a teammate, Loui upheld the importance of her role even while unable to compete. She mentioned that “it makes a difference to show up not only for my teammates but for myself” to affirm the reciprocal support system of the team. This commitment did not go unnoticed. Teammate and captain, Cecilia Denis ’25, brought up how “she would do workouts during practice but instead of going into the gym away from the courts she would work out right by us on the sidelines” and emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for oneself and recovery to best contribute to the team. 

Throughout this process, Loui learned how strong she is and constantly reiterated the vitality of gratitude in her healing process. She is not the only one who learned from this experience. Brandeis men’s soccer player and Loui’s boyfriend of over two years, Gabe Haithcock ’25, spoke with me about being by her side during recovery. He said, “It was a very humbling experience because it made me take a step back to realize that every day I get to spend on the field, in the weight room or in the locker room with my teammates isn’t promised so I need to make sure to recognize and appreciate how lucky I am for it.” Her self proclaimed “number one fan” admires Loui’s “sheer determination and passion” in all that she does and specifically in the face of adversity. 

Now in the spring of 2024, Loui is “still getting back into it,” finally seeing progress in her shoulder mobility for the first time in years. She ardently anticipates “that feeling of contentment when you know you've left everything on the court” which every athlete knows all too well. When she steps up to the line to serve she focuses on the emotions she felt while injured on the sidelines, “that eagerness to play and love for tennis,” to ensure her mindset and energy are competition-ready. 

Looking to the future, Loui plans to become a physical therapist and directly apply the lessons she learned from being a patient to her practice. After a lengthy process of feeling dismissed and unheard, she intends to “do everything in [her] power” to “make sure they know they are being listened to.” The tennis player is in the midst of her spring season and you can catch the action at her next home match at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 6 at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.