Many collegiate student-athletes arrive on campus with lofty aspirations. They might hope to represent their country in international competition one day. Maybe they dream of becoming published authors, or coming up with their own ideas for non-profit organizations and building them from scratch.
Mae Coyiuto ’16, the top-ranked singles player on Pomona-Pitzer’s women’s tennis team, had already accomplished all of that before her first day at Pomona.
The inspiration to become a writer caught hold very early in her life.
“When I was about five years old, my mom got this new laptop computer,” said Coyiuto. “To me, it looked like the shiniest, best toy ever, but my mom told me I wasn’t allowed to play with it. In the morning, though, I would sneak in the living room and play around with the computer. I discovered this magical thing called Microsoft Powerpoint and I wrote my first story on a slideshow presentation. One day my mom caught me on the computer and instead of scolding me for disobeying her, she read my story. From that day on, I never really stopped writing.”
By the time she was 10, Coyiuto was a published author, writing three children’s books in her native Philippines. As she grew older, she was inspired to write a book of short stories at age 16, titled Flight to the Stars.
Even in those early years, Coyiuto knew she had found a life-long passion. Being behind a keyboard allowed her to open up in ways that were perhaps more difficult in real life.
“I’ve always been a person who never really said much, but writing has always been a venue where I can express myself. I can write the most bizarre things, and some might even call it creativity. One thing I love about writing is that no matter how old you are or where you’re from, there is someone out there who will pay attention to what you have to say.”
Coyiuto wasn’t content with merely finding her own inspiration and seeing it through. She wanted others to have the same opportunity, so she started an organization to help build libraries in Habitat for Humanity communities in the Philippines. “The idea of our “Gintong Isip” (Golden Minds) library stemmed from both my experiences with writing and tennis. My biggest role models were some of the kids I met in junior tennis. They all had big dreams of playing for the Davis Cup, ranking internationally or getting college scholarships. I’m very happy to say that some of these kids toured abroad and got full-ride scholarships to the top universities in the Philippines. I think that everyone should be given the chance to dream and strive for something the way these players have.
“I have been terribly blessed to find things that I love so much, and I wanted to help others find their passions, too. I think the best way to do this is through literacy. Exposing people to all kinds of stories can inspire them to dream. My main reason for coming up with the Golden Minds project was to help others (especially children) realize that they have this incredible potential to be whoever they want to be. Through the amazing help of Habitat for Humanity, we were able to put up our first library last summer. During the opening, there were kids there who told me that they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and one even said she wanted to be the next president. The goal of Gintong Isip is to make these dreams a reality.”
Coyiuto was also an overachiever on the tennis courts at a young age, winning several junior tournaments and representing the Philippines in the Junior Fed Cup in Malaysia in 2010. She still came to Pomona uncertain of how she would fare at the collegiate tennis level, but her very first tournament during her freshman fall alleviated any fears, as she advanced to the semifinals of the ITA West Regionals before falling to the No. 1 seed (Kristin Lim of CMS).
“That tournament will always be one of my best memories in tennis,” she said. “Before coming here, I was really nervous about playing college tennis. But while I was playing in the fall tournament, I knew that I was going to love playing for Pomona-Pitzer. Even though we had been playing for three days and it was over 100 degrees out, every single member of the team was out there cheering for each other. It didn’t matter that it was only my first year on the team or if my opponent was one point away from winning, they were all there for me. I’ve never felt this kind of support until I came here. The support my teammates gave me during that fall tournament helped me start to believe more in myself.”
She felt the same support off the court as well, when tragedy struck last fall. She was thousands of miles away when Typhoon Haiyan (Typhoon Yolanda, as it is known in the Philippines) devastated her home country, and although her family and local community were spared the brunt of the storm, she knew plenty of people directly affected.
“The hardest part about being away during Typhoon Yolanda was hearing about the casualties, seeing the destruction and feeling that I couldn’t do anything to help. Thankfully, my amazing AAMP mentor, Kim Africa [’15], planned a fundraising dinner for the victims. This event made me realize how lucky I was to be part of the 5C community and the tennis team. I was so touched when my professors, even from my freshman year, sent me an e-mail checking up on me and asked if there was any way they could help with the fundraiser.
“Even with all their work and other responsibilities, my teammates spent hours helping me make Filipino desserts for the event. I also reached out to the CMS women’s tennis team, asking if they could donate a basket for the raffle and they made the most beautiful basket I’ve ever seen. Seeing all my friends and teammates at the dinner made me realize that I’ve found my second home in this community.”
Coyiuto played most of her freshman season at No. 2 singles, and led the team with a 17–6 record. As a sophomore this spring, she led the team in wins again (17–8) and moved up to the No. 1 position in singles, helping Pomona-Pitzer to a No. 6 national ranking and an appearance at the NCAA Regional finals. But ask her about specific goals she may have over the rest of her tennis career, and she turns attention away from herself after one sentence.
“I hope to grow more as a player and to never stop trying to get better,” she said. “More than that, I hope that each member of the team meets her goals and loves the sport more and more during her time in Pomona-Pitzer tennis. I want to help continue the tradition of the PP tennis team as an area of support, love and family for each member.”
Providing support and love to the greater community is one area where Coyiuto has always managed to hit a winner.