With a war unravelling in her home country, it’s hard for University of Miami tennis player Diana Khodan to focus on her sport.
Thankfully, her team is rallying around her to make sure she feels supported during this difficult time away from home.
“I feel like it’s my mission to fight here, because my people are fighting in Ukraine and when I’m between the lines I’m also fighting for my country,” said Khodan. “So that’s probably also the motivation right now.”
“D is the person that always laughs and make jokes,” said her doubles partner Maya Tahan. “Everything is positive and energetic and the fact that she’s still doing that during these times, its inspiring.”
When she’s not on the court, Diana is reaching out to her family back home in Ukraine: her grandparents, parents and brother are all living in the country during the war with Russia.
Thankfully, they live on the west side of the country so things are safer, but it doesn’t make it any easier for her here in Miami.
“To hear from my mom ‘Yeah, I’m alive, we’re alive, we’re safe,’ it’s obviously horrible. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through, because you can understand only if you’re there, and so it’s tough for me because I am so far from them,” she said.
“I think throughout the situation we’ve just understood how strong she is and how resilient she is and how much she loves Ukraine and how much of a fighter she is,” said UM associate head coach Alex Santos.
To show their support of Diana, the Miami tennis program decided to don the Ukrainian flag on their uniforms during competition last week. It was a gesture that moved Diana to tears.
“When I’m on the tennis courts, I’m trying not to think - but when everyone’s wearing this, and I’m like ‘oh my gosh.’ That was nice and I think that was really good that we did that,” she said.
“We just wanted to show here we are here with you, we support you, we support your family, we support your country,” added Santos. “We don’t think it’s correct what is happening right now, and we just wanted to show that we are fighting by your side and that you can count on us, not just for tennis, but for life.”
Even in the midst of chaos, Diana finds solace in serving aces with her team.
“When I’m on the tennis court, I’m just trying to stay between the lines and just keep my thoughts away. I think obviously it’s my happy place so it’s helping me a lot right now,” Khodan said.
“We’re trying to be sensitive, but I think she is doing an amazing job in how she’s handling everything,” Tahan said. “If you feel that she’s having a bad moment or something, she’s taking those moments to be a better player, to be more aggressive, and to give more to the team.”
The men’s team also wore the flag on their uniforms in support of Ukraine and Diana. She said the best way to help her country during these difficult times is to donate through local organizations.