Next month, former Howland and John F. Kennedy tennis star Lauren Kraker will compete in the NCAA Division III tennis tournament with City University of New York champions Baruch College.
“I think it’s a good parallel that I finished high school going to state and now I’m finishing college going to the NCAA,” Kraker, 22, said.
As a JFK senior, she and teammate Kaytlin Marlatt qualified for the state doubles tournament. Now in his senior year at Baruch, his varsity team finished first in the city’s CUNY network of colleges to qualify for the national championships in May.
The biology major with a chemistry minor will also graduate next month from Baruch with honors, including the varsity athlete of the year award.
“I came to this college for academics,” said Kraker. “I put my studies before tennis.”
Each of the 11 senior colleges in the CUNY conference nominated two women and two men from all sports.
“I won the general prize” said Kraker. “I’m very excited about it. Sometimes it feels like you’re doing all this work and it’s hard to see where it’s leading. When you get something like that, it really puts it into perspective.
Add to studies and competitions Kraker’s volunteer work at Mount Sinai Hospital in East Harlem, teaching tennis, including broadcasting journalist Diane Sawyer (“She’s a nice lady”), service projects, artwork and jewelry making.
“There’s not much sleep here” said Kraker.
She has not yet decided whether she will enroll in medical school to become a doctor or in graduate school to become a researcher in a field related to genetics. She said she intended to take a year off after graduation to work in a research lab to help her decide which path would be best for her.
Kraker is the daughter of Dr. Gary, a family medicine specialist, and Leslie Kraker, a fine arts teacher at JFK.
Kraker learned tennis at the local country club and, at age 12, played competitively on a United States Tennis Association team, while continuing his education.
“It’s the two things – I come from studying or playing tennis”, she says. “I tried all the other sports and this is the one that stuck with me.”
She transferred from local schools in Howland to John F. Kennedy High School in Warren during her second year. Kraker’s honors include the Golden Racket Award, All-County and All-Conference teams, four years on the Academic Honor Roll, National Honor Society, and Class President.
In 2017, she had the unique distinction of captaining the boys’ tennis team in the spring and the girls’ team in the fall.
This journey began in June 2016 when she was diagnosed with a tumor in her femur.
“I had it for a while. It caused a lot of pain,” said Kraker. “The only way, if I wanted to keep playing tennis or just practice or do anything, I had to have him removed.”
After the surgery, Kraker pushed hard in physical therapy. She trained with the boys’ tennis team in the spring of 2017 to help with recovery.
“I missed the girls’ season, so I was allowed to play in the boys’ team”, she says. “They didn’t treat me any differently. It was an awesome experience.”
When the season started and practices gave way to competition, Kraker figured she should sit down. “Twenty minutes before the boys started (their first game of the season) they told me I could play. It was a big surprise.
In the fall, she joined the girls’ team. Kraker said she doesn’t remember her file, but “I still had a winning season with the boys and with the girls.”
MOVING TO NEW YORK
The day she graduated from Kennedy High School in 2018, Kraker moved to Manhattan.
Jumping straight from a small town to the 11th largest city in the world and the largest in the United States was a culture shock, Kraker said.
It helped that his college had no fraternities or sororities, and it was a suburban school. There wasn’t a huge social network on campus to distract her.
“I was living all alone. I really like relying on myself. Tennis is one of the sports that depends on you and only you and how well you do. I know that if I put in the effort and the time, (I can succeed). I don’t have to worry about other people putting in the same amount of effort and time.
Excelling at tennis takes dedication and commitment. These acquired skills translate into both areas of his life, including studies and volunteer work. Moreover, the healthy lifestyle she leads to train tennis improves the rest of her life.
“I’m able to commit and dedicate a lot more time to myself without overstretching myself,” she says. “I find balance in everything I do.
“It seems like the dedication I put in on the pitch and at school plays out and allows me to be successful in both. I know I will study and I know I will practice.
“It’s not just about one moment, one game – it’s the whole showcase, the dedication, the sacrifice.”
The best part of working at the hospital is meeting people, Kraker said.
“I go to see different patients who are admitted. I just give them simple things they need – food, water, sometimes crafts or I just talk to them,” she says. “Just being able to meet people from all over the world – honestly, they come from all over the world and come to the ER.
“I have no medical privileges” she says. “Being able to comfort them in some way is very good for me. Anything I can do to give them relief from what they are going through.
Many people can send money or do things from home to send somewhere. Kraker said she prefers to be on the front line, serving people face-to-face, whether in the emergency room or teaching underprivileged children tennis.
“It’s even more important to do it first-hand,” said Kraker. “I walk around and talk to people. You can see firsthand what your time does for these people. You can see the difference you are making.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Kraker found himself in Howland to take online classes.
“I’m used to not really having any breaks in my life” she says. “I tried to keep myself busy. I made jewelry between classes to keep busy and shipped it to my friends. She said she also used her mother’s drawing materials to relax through creativity.
But these days, Kraker is in New York finishing his studies and preparing for the NCAA championships. “It’s going to be a lot of fun” she says.
And when competitive tennis is over, “It will be nice to play casually and just for fun,” she says.