Off the tennis court, Puig is focused on helping Puerto Rico recovery efforts.
Tennis player Monica Puig currently resides in Miami, but her heart is in her place of birth: the island of Puerto Rico. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Puig became the first athlete to win a gold medal representing Puerto Rico. Just over a year after Puig’s historic win, Hurricane Maria devastated the island and Puig swiftly took action to help those affected by the tragedy.
Accompanied by Maria Sharapova, Puig traveled to Puerto Rico in October to deliver supplies and hope to the island’s residents. “My mother always told me God put me in this world for a reason,” Puig said at the time of her visit. “I think the reason is to help Puerto Rico and give hope to people who have lost everything. In this moment, that’s what we need.”
Puig also set up a fund-raiser through YouCaring called Help Rebuild Puerto Rico, which remains active and serves as a reminder that the island still needs our donations and support.
In an interview with Crixeo at the Miami Open in Key Biscayne, Puig spoke about why she competes for Puerto Rico and her work to help the island rebuild after Hurricane Maria.
Q: You’re making a huge difference off the court with your Puerto Rico recovery efforts. Could you tell me about your trip there in October?
Hurricane Maria was a huge devastation to Puerto Rico, so my team and I quickly jumped at the opportunity to help and build the funds to get aid to people as quickly as possible. We were able to get enough funds to buy stoves and propane for people to cook hot food. We were also able to buy a lot of insulin to get to the hospitals. So now what we’re trying to do is see if we can repair some of the roofs for people. It’s a work in progress, but hopefully Puerto Rico will be back on its feet.
Q: Maria Sharapova accompanied you to Puerto Rico. What’s it like to be competitors on the court and friends off the court, and how do you achieve that balance?
It’s nice to know that when a fellow player needs help, a lot of other players are quick to help and quick to jump at the opportunity to contribute. So that was really nice. We all compete and we all want to win matches, but at the end of the day we realize we’re not just tennis players; we’re also humans and there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s a lot of emotions and sentiment. So I think it was really important to see that support and that love between us competitors.
Q: You have an ongoing fund-raising campaign through YouCaring. What are the current priorities and goals for that fund-raiser?
The current goals are to try and reconstruct roofs in Puerto Rico for families. That’s another huge concern right now. Rain comes and the temporary roofs are not enough for people to stay dry and a lot of people’s houses are also suffering because of the structure. That’s really the next step. I think everybody is slowly but surely beginning to get back power, but the housing situation is something that needs our attention.
“We all compete and we all want to win matches, but at the end of the day we realize we’re not just tennis players; we’re also humans….”
Q: You grew up in Miami, but your heritage is really important to you. What does Puerto Rico mean to you?
For me, Puerto Rico is live or die. I love that island with all my heart and to see something as devastating as Hurricane Maria really showed me just how much I love and care for the place I was born and the place that I call home. So I am very patriotic, and people always tell me that when I play for Puerto Rico, I tend to bring out my best tennis, and that is true. There’s just something special that I feel. That attachment to my country is just an indescribable thing. It’s huge.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about Miami?
Growing up in Miami, the thing I liked the most is that it felt kind of like Puerto Rico. It’s very diverse. You have a lot of people from South America and Central America — places like Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. So that Latin flavor was everywhere. I really like being close to the beach and the tropical climate.
Q: Are there any popular workout classes in Miami that you enjoy?
I used to do a lot of spin classes, which are really popular here in Miami. It’s very active; it’s a good, quick workout for an hour. I also do yoga. I feel like it definitely helps me keep my body very flexible and in shape when I’m not in the gym, and it also helps me release tension and just relax.
Q: What’s your advice to girls and women who are in competitive activities or careers?
As women we have to believe in ourselves and the power that we hold. I feel like it’s really important for us to know that we are invincible. For years we have been put down, we’ve been oppressed, we’ve been told we’re not strong enough, we’re not good enough to do jobs that men are doing.
But I feel that every woman has the opportunity to step up and put her mind to anything that she wants. Women have fire in our hearts. When we want to achieve something, we usually end up getting it one way or another. We definitely have that can-do attitude, and I feel that women everywhere need to use that, step up, and say, “This is our time.”
“Women have fire in our hearts…. We definitely have that can-do attitude, and I feel that women everywhere need to use that, step up, and say, ‘This is our time.’”
Q: This is the last Miami Open tournament in Key Biscayne. Does it feel like the end of an era?
It’s a bit sad. One tries to go on the court and to just soak up every opportunity because it’s the last year here, but it’s very sad. I can remember even when I was seven and eight years old coming here to watch the tournament and now I’m playing here. So I’m gonna go out on the court and play and just enjoy every single moment of this last year here. We’ll see what the future brings. I know there are a lot of new ideas going into this new venue and a lot of progress has been made, so I’m excited to see what everyone has been working so hard to produce.
Q: Do you have any favorite memories of going to the Miami Open as a child?
I remember walking by the courts and telling my parents, “Mom, Dad, one day I’m going to play on these courts.” And my parents were like, “Yeah, okay. We’ll see.” And the first time I played here I said, “See, I told you I was going to be here!”
But it’s just surreal to see the progress and what I’ve done since that time and what’s still left for me to do in my career. I’m almost 25 years old, and I know I still have a few years left in me to just push and achieve the goals I have set for myself.
Q: What are your goals for the upcoming season?
I just want to enjoy it and have fun. Since the Olympics, there’s been a lot of pressure and expectations and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed myself as much as I probably should have. I want to give myself the opportunity to start having fun again and appreciate what the sport has given me. And it’s given me a lot of great things, especially since the Olympics. So I really want to harness that positive energy and have fun out there.