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Q&A: Andrea Jaeger

Posted: Friday December 8, 2006 4:49PM; Updated: Friday December 8, 2006 5:56PM
Andrea Jaeger
Andrea Jaeger

Last week SI writer Richard Deitsch interviewed Andrea Jaeger for the magazine's Q&A. The 41-year-old -- the former No. 2 tennis player in the world in the 1980s -- became Sister Andrea, an Anglican Dominican nun, in September. You can find information about her foundation (Little Star Foundation) at http://www.littlestar.org/.

SI: You should know this is SI's first Q&A with a nun.

Jaeger: Oh, my God [laughs]. I think I was first in SI when I was 13. Hearing that sounds strange, doesn't it? You usually don't put SI and nun together.

SI: You'd probably top any list of athletes turned nuns.

Jaeger: Well, there are some saints out there [laughs]. Andre Agassi is doing saints' work.

SI: You've always been a humanitarian -- for the last 16 years you've been working for your foundation for sick children. But what prompted you to become a nun?

Jaeger: I have always had a personal relationship with God, even as a child. Last year I just had this calling. I received an associate's degree in theology several years ago and had been dealing with kids for many years. I had a dream that was very definitive. The message was: OK, I'm supposed to be a Dominican nun. This is what God is calling me to do.

SI: You retired at 19 after seven shoulder surgeries. Do you ever think about how your career could have turned out if you had stayed healthy?

Jaeger: I think God wanted to help me with things other than being No. 1 in the world. But I knew that at 14. I didn't tell anyone because how many people wanted to hear that? Sponsors didn't. Management groups didn't. When I was injured, I asked God, "I think I've learned everything I'm supposed to learn here. Can we go and help these children now?" I would have never left on my own, because of sponsors and my family. Then my shoulder popped at the French when I was 19, and I was at total peace.

SI: Who have you heard from since you became a nun?

Jaeger: People have e-mailed and called from around the world. Agassi, for one. He and I have always talked about doing something on a bigger scale, and we've been looking into that.

Last week was interesting because of Chris Evert. We had never really spoken since the rude moment in the locker room when I was 15 [After losing a match to Jaeger, Evert said, Now that you beat me, will your father let us be friends? The teenager's response? I don't want to be friends you]. I'm going to Florida to do a hospital visit and I thought I'd see if she wanted to do this visit together. We had other encounters and she tried to reach out to me, but at the time Andrea was not Sister Andrea (laughs). So I sent an e-mail that said: "I don't know if you know, but I have become a Dominican nun and I'll be in Florida this month. You asked me this question when I was 15 years old and I rudely replied." I went through a bit of the history of the foundation and I said, "You may not want to ask me again but I'm hoping we can partner up and help these kids together when I am in Miami." It wasn't even 24 hours later and she replied. She said, "When you were on the circuit I should have reached out more. I saw that you were confused about how selfish the industry was and you just wanted to give." She said she would love to do the visit. So it's a full circle.

SI: You were born in Skokie and raised in Lincolnshire. Now that you are nun, can you put in a good word for the Cubs?

Jaeger: Oh, goodness (laughs). Well, the power of prayer can do a lot of things, you know. But as well as the Bears are doing, I still think my prayers are going for Peyton Manning. I think everyone can feel what happened to Colts last year with their coach [Tony Dungy] losing his son. Manning is going to get in the football Hall of Fame and it seems like he has a good personality. So give him the Super Bowl already! I mean Tom Brady has how many?

SI: So you can you watch football?

Jaeger: There are some areas that are pretty strict. I am going stay true to my vows and I'll want to make sure my studies are done and I won't watch when I am studying. But sports is culture and life and it has always been a part of my life. I used to wear an Oakland Raiders jacket with a Miami Dolphins hat. I do love football. It's probably my favorite sport to watch.

SI: How often do you follow tennis today?

Jaeger: I followed it more when Pete Sampras and Agassi played. I didn't really follow women's tennis because it was too close to me. But I do watch Wimbledon and certain other things, such as the Davis Cup.

SI: What do you consider your most memorable match?

Jaeger: There are two. One was winning the French Open mixed doubles championship with Jimmy Arias because I had such a crush on him. I knew I had to win this tournament for him because then maybe he would like me (laughs) and I'd get to spend more time with him. We were so young. It was if we were going to a movie together. And beating Billie Jean King on center court at Wimbledon in 1983. That was special because she retired after that. She was a pioneer. I didn't know it was her last match. I beat her 6-1. 6-1.

SI: It must be excruciating to say goodbye to the children who come to your camp in Colorado?

Jaeger: We have a philosophy where we don't say goodbye. We say, see you later. And we have a policy at the foundation where we don't go to funerals because we would be doing it so much. I think you must have a gift to go into the field because it rips your heart out every time. I have encountered things that just prove what the human spirit is capable of. There was a 14-year-girl with us with a brain tumor. We played tennis together and did arts and crafts and all kind of activities. We were talking on the phone one day she was picking out her makeup clothes, and music for her funeral service. Granted, the Tour had challenges but these children are dealing with things we can't even comprehend as adults.

SI: Your foundation provides medical, educational, financial, spiritual and emotional support and long term care to children with cancer and other diseases, abused and at risk children, the caregiver system and children in need. How much does your foundation have to raise per year?

Jaeger: We have to raise $4.3 million a year. That is the goal. Because we do long term care for children with cancer and help kids who have been abused, our budget has grown over the years. Ideally, I need to raise an endowment. That is the ultimate goal. Right now we have zero in our endowment. The goal will be $53 million.