When most people pack for trips, they make sure to include the vacation necessities: beach towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good book. But in Nan Porter’s suitcase, among other things, there is a Leatherman pocket knife and a parachute cord.
The Highland Park graduate has already spent more than a week at the U.S. Military Academy’s basic training. She’s taking her talents to West Point, where tense military drills and short rests in barracks are hallmarks of a lifestyle perfectly contrary to one normally associated with a nationally sought-after athlete from an area like Highland Park.
“So much good comes out of it,” she said. “It’s a tough four years, but you get to serve your country.”
Porter is ranked 164th among high school girls tennis players nationwide and 14th in Texas, according to tennisrecruiting.net. She’s given a four-star rating out of five, and is one half of the reigning Class 4A doubles girls state championship team. Army might be the last place you’d expect a player like Porter to end up, but she’s attracted to the career opportunities and lifelong friendships that come along with attending school in West Point.
Aside from the four years she’ll spend in school, West Point graduates are required to serve at least five years in the Army. Porter will also have the inside track to landing a job as an officer, though a long-term career in the military isn’t something she is seriously considering.
“I’m taking it year-by-year,” she said on the eve of her departure for basic training. She was slightly nervous, but excited to take on the challenge.
And according to Scots tennis head coach Dan Holden, Porter will be up to that challenge. Comparing the military academies to Ivy League schools in terms of academics, Holden said Porter is as hard-working off the court as she is on the court.
“She’s very dedicated to her fitness,” he said. “All that’s going to translate really well to the Academy.”
Porter’s parents weren’t exactly on board from the beginning, however. They joined her on visits to West Point, the Naval Academy in Maryland, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado, but were hesitant at first to offer their blessing.
“They were not too happy about it,” she said of their feelings at the start. But they’re beginning to come around. “My mom’s still pretty nervous about me going, but my dad is pretty much on board.”
A huge part of basic training is becoming familiar with difficult situations and embracing adversity. In that respect, Porter will be one step ahead of her peers. Her parents separated when she was younger, and she moved with her mother to Highland Park from Amarillo. She went to three different high schools, attending one in Amarillo and another in Plano before settling at Highland Park during her senior year.
Between constantly moving and her growing affinity for tennis, Porter didn’t have time to make many friends outside of the sport. Perhaps that’s why she finds the group mentality of the military so appealing. That could even be why she excelled in doubles, a game that requires individual success but forces the pair to be on the same brainwave.
“You’re working with your teammates, and that’s what the military is about,” she said.
Holden said life as a top tennis player can be a lonely one, as hectic training schedules and plenty of travel can alienate a player from her peers, but he said Porter never had issues connecting with teammates — all of whom were enduring the same challenges.
“Everybody here loved her,” Holden said. “Still do.”
Aside from the obvious lifestyle change, Porter said she must still improve her tennis game to succeed at the Division I level. She describes herself as a scrappy, aggressive player, but plans to work on her performance near the net. She’s not large in stature, but even a player of her size could overwhelm opponents if she can master that component of her game.
Porter said not many girls even try playing near the net. She could be one of the few who do.
She doesn’t mind being a little different, doing things her own way. That’s her style.