Tennis sensation Jessica Pegula recently spoke about embracing her Korean heritage and using her platform to raise awareness during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
In a recent op-ed piece for the Buffalo Bills website, the 29-year-old athlete shared that her deep connection to her roots started in 2019 when her family traveled to Seoul so she could participate in the Korean Open. She noted that the journey allowed her and her family to explore her mother’s birthplace and gain a deeper understanding of her heritage.
Jessica’s mother Kim, president and CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, was born in Seoul and had a challenging upbringing. Abandoned outside a police station as a child, she spent time in an orphanage before being adopted and brought to Fairport, New York, by an American couple at age 5.
She had never gone back – I don’t think she ever would have if not for tennis. I played in that tournament mostly because I wanted my mom to go. We visited her orphanage and learned about the process that brought her to the United States. It was a special experience we were able to share with my whole family, and it was tennis that brought us together for it.
According to Jessica, her mother broke barriers in the sports world without even realizing it.
Kim is the president of both the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, making her the first Asian American woman to hold such a position in either league. Her achievements allowed her to become an advocate for representation in sports, actively participating in the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee and the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council.
The AAPI tennis community is large but underrepresented. We hope to empower leaders, grow visibility, and create programming that encourages youth participation. We see a huge opportunity later this summer at the U.S. Open to connect with the Asian American population in New York City.
Jessica shared that she has come to notice the impact she has on young girls, particularly those of Korean or mixed Asian heritage.
These encounters remind her of the importance of representation and how she and her mother’s achievements inspire others.
In an earlier piece for The Players’ Tribune in which Jessica discusses her mother’s cardiac arrest, which led to a brain injury, she also touched on her mother’s work ethic prior to her health crisis.
She loved to work. She did everything and our family constantly told her how she needs to slow down and take time for herself. She was the woman behind my dad’s success and my dad would happily admit that. She jumped into this journey with him and learned many lessons along the way, breaking a lot of barriers. She was the shift in culture, positivity, and the heartbeat of many of the employees. She gave everyone so much of her time and effort. She lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met.
As her mother continues her road to recovery, Jessica, ranked No. 3 in the world, has set her sights on the French Open, also known as Roland-Garros.
Her recent victory over Danielle Collins provided a much-needed boost after a challenging period of injuries and illnesses.
“I had a little bit of a nagging injury in Madrid and Rome,” she told WTA Insider in an interview. “Then the two-week tournament [format]. Then I got food poisoning last week. There’s been a lot of obstacles, I feel like, the last couple of weeks specifically that have been really tough physically and then taking their toll mentally because of that.
Jessica is set to face No. 37 Camila Giorgi of Italy in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday.