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She plays tennis. She performs research. She is a 2021 Order of Pegasus recipient. She is a Burnett Honors Scholar. And her name is Nikki Anne Ballelos (she/hers). Nikki Anne is a fourth-year Biomedical Sciences major with a minor in Psychology and performs research in the UCF Study of Metacognition and Advanced Learning Technologies Lab (SMART Lab). Academics aside, she is an active tennis competitor on the United States Tennis Association league (USTA). For Nikki Anne, limits are meant to be exceeded.

Nikki Anne started playing tennis when she was seven years old. It all began as a family bonding activity where her uncle taught her family how to play. However, this family activity became her interest and later evolved into an integral part of her life. She competed in high school and different tournaments and is now playing in the USTA league with back-to-back sectionals every weekend.

Playing tennis competitively is difficult; playing tennis competitively every week is undoubtedly more difficult. However, with everything going on, she still manages to excel academically and performs research in the SMART Lab. In fact, she just presented her research from the lab at FURC, the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference! Moreover, she has worked as a Senior Peer Mentor of Biomedical Sciences, Secretary Director for the Hearts for the Homeless, and even served as the Vice President for the UCF Honors Congress.

How did she manage everything? Why isn’t she stressed out? Tennis. To her, the sport is a form of relaxation; it is “one of the ways I cope with everything,” she says. It is an excellent way of getting herself out of the house amidst the pandemic and online classes and work and is an amazing way to exercise.

Her dedication to excellence is evident not only in her professional CV. From 2020 alone, her tennis team at USTA earned the highest wins in the local league and has earned the title of Sectional Finalists. And because most USTA leagues consist of double matches, which is an aberration from her past of playing single, she has learned the importance of teamwork, patience, and perseverance. If making it to sectionals three times doesn’t show her determination and willpower to go the distance to win, nothing will.

As that common saying goes, “behind every great person, there is a great woman.” This saying cannot be more accurate in describing Nikki Anne and her experience playing thus far. “I have to thank my mom for pushing me to continue playing tennis after high school,” she explains, “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up my tennis skills…and stay connected with my family.” And for that, she is “forever grateful.”