The University of Arkansas Athletic Department is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with a series of stories highlighting several of our student-athletes with Hispanic and Latino American backgrounds. We will be publishing a series of stories each Wednesday during the month-long event letting fans get to know selected student-athletes and how their heritage impacts them. Check back each week for new stories.
Ana Lorena Belmar Hernandez comes to Fayetteville this year from Guadalajara, Mexico, where she is one of four new freshmen on the women’s tennis team. She brings with her a rich tennis lineage, and will draw support from a great tennis family. For Ana Lorena, life as a Razorback is a balance between embracing a rich tradition and history, and becoming her own person at Arkansas.
“My Mexican heritage is very important to me,” Belmar Hernandez explained “because I love Mexican culture. We mix the best of everything, keeping our traditions, and we are a very family oriented culture. That culture and the way that my parents have raised me is the basis for who I am. At Arkansas I have to stay true to myself and true to my values based on how I was raised.”
For every student-athlete, the first year on campus presents an unfamiliar set of challenges. Ana Lorena comes not only to a new country for school, but to a women’s tennis team fresh with young and diverse talent. She is one of three new freshmen that come to the University of Arkansas from foreign countries, and two-thirds of the current roster was raised outside the United States. Belmar Hernandez has formed a quick connection with the members of her team, and they have helped each other adjust to college life in Fayetteville.
“It’s been a learning experience for me,” Belmar Hernandez said. “Everything is new and everything is different, especially being away from my home, my parents, and my culture. It’s been a good process. The University is very nice, and the people are all very nice, so it all helps the process to be a lot easier. Our team has been very good with everything. My roommate is Sarah McLean and we get along great. Her mom is Columbian, so we share that Latin connection. And my other two roommates are golfers, and they’re both from Mexico, so that has helped as well.”
Ana Lorena grew up not only strongly connected to her culture and her heritage, but with a strong family tennis history. Her uncle, Rafael Osuna, is one of the greatest Mexican tennis players of all time, and is the only Mexican inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. While attending college at USC he was the NCAA singles champion in 1962, doubles champion from 1961 to 1963, and team champion in 1962-63. He won four Grand Slam titles, winning singles in the 1963 U.S. Open, in doubles at Wimbledon in 1960 and 1963, and at the U.S. Open in 1962. Competing for Mexico, he earned two Olympic gold medals in 1968, and led the Mexican Davis Cup squad to the finals for the only time in its history. He is the only Mexican tennis player ever ranked as the World No. 1 (in 1963) and is the only Mexican to ever win a Grand Slam singles title.
“From what I’ve heard, everybody says that he was a great person,” Belmar Hernandez explained. “Both on and off the court. He was a great athlete; he also used to play basketball and ping pong on a competitive level. He went on a scholarship to the University of Southern California, and was a great example and a great motivation for all Mexicans.”
Osuna’s life ended tragically, however, as he passed away in a plane crash in 1969 at the age of 30, before Belmar Hernandez was born. He was recognized posthumously by numerous organizations, who all recognized not only his great career but his personality and outreach in the community.
“I’ve known a lot of people that he touched and affected in a positive way,” Belmar Hernandez said. “My dad and my grandmother especially. (Longtime USC head tennis coach George) Toley, (professional players Manuel) Santana and Rod Laver, they all have very good memories of him.”
Belmar Hernandez’s tennis legacy does not end with her uncle. Each of her parents were extremely successful tennis players, both competitively at the junior level, playing in the Junior US Open and the Junior Wimbledon, and each collegiately at USC. Both of her parents were then also Mexican National champions. Her mother was ranked in the top 150 in the WTA rankings. Her parents were a major influence on her growing up.
“They’re both great tennis players. For me that’s been great,” Belmar Hernandez said. “They’re my motivation, they’re my role models. Since I’ve been little I’ve always wanted to be like my mom, like my uncle, like my dad, because they’re not only just great tennis players, but they’re great people. I wish someday I can become like them.”
After seeing the success of her family in collegiate tennis, Ana Lorena set her sights on a collegiate tennis career of her own.
“Since I’ve been little my goal has been to get to a really good school,” Belmar Hernandez explained. “Not just tennis wise, but also academically. I think the University of Arkansas was the complete package for me. With Coach Hegarty and everyone on the team, it’s been a really good fit for me.”
When asked how she hopes to follow the success of her family, Ana Lorena’s answer is direct and to the point.
“My mom was an NCAA Champion.”
And that’s the goal she’s shooting for?
“Yes, I am. But I am going to be a Razorback.”