Danielle Mousseau's story is about trophies and tragedy, about family and friends and, perhaps most importantly, about perspective and perseverance.
The senior women's tennis player doesn't shy away from her personal tragedy. Without mention of it, she knows her story wouldn't be complete.
NAME: Danielle Mousseau
MAJOR: Professional strategic communication with a public relations emphasis.
FROM: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
COLLEGIATE SINGLES RECORD: 48-72
NOTEWORTHY: Collected the ITA's national Cissie Leary Award for Sportsmanship as well as the ITA Midwest Region sportsmanship award during her junior season Named to the Academic all-Big Ten team two straight years. In high school, was ranked as high an No. 59 in the nation in the USTA rankings.
"I like talking about it; it's a part of me," Mousseau said. "It's important because you never know what kind of burden people you see are bearing on a regular basis."
One year ago - 366 days to be exact - Mousseau was sitting inside the Bierman Athletic Complex writing a paper when her phone rang. It was her dad, Dan. His first words shocked her.
"Your mom died," he said.
Mousseau's mother, Sue Ellen, a healthy, middle-aged woman of 51, died after a blood clot in her leg traveled up her body and damaged her lungs.
"I didn't even get a call that she was in the hospital. I just got a call that she wasn't alive anymore," Mousseau said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about it. I think I'm a different person because of it."
The story of trophies, tragedy, friends and family, perspective and perseverance begins with Sue Ellen Mousseau.
Sue Ellen introduced Danielle to tennis at the age of seven.
"I was also a swimmer and I played softball. But I won my first tennis tournament and I got a trophy. In swimming you got ribbons and same with softball. My family called me a trophy hunter. In tennis, if you win or get to a consolation final, you get an opportunity to get a trophy every weekend, and that appealed to me. I wanted to fill my windowsill with trophies," Mousseau said.
"I was extremely motivated by trophies - I still am. I want to take them with me, even the little dinky ones."
As Mousseau got older, the trophies got bigger as she got better - she was top five in her hometown age 10-and-under division and top six in the 14-and-under age group.
Then, one day, Sue Ellen and Danielle had a talk.
"My mom said she was going to financially make the effort, if I'm willing to put the physical effort in, if that's something I wanted to do," Mousseau said.
"I had my own personal coach who I hit with five or six days a week for two hours. I hit with guys a lot. I did a lot of traveling; all my winter and spring breaks were tournaments. I never knew anything else and that's how I wanted it to be," Mousseau said.
Never once did the Mousseau's mention the word "scholarship" to their daughter. But when Mousseau became flooded with mail from interested schools after a top-notch United State Tennis Association and high school career, she took recruiting trips to Ohio State, Indiana, Wake Forest and Auburn.
"My mom put me in tennis because it is a lifelong sport. She never believed I'd get involved this much. There are no real tennis players in my family. My parents played recreationally."
The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native decided if she was going to get a scholarship, she might as well experience a living situation different from the familiarity of her home state of Florida.
"My family, we aren't poor, but we aren't wealthy, so I told myself if you are allowed to get a scholarship, go somewhere you couldn't go - go to a part of the country you wouldn't be able to go to if you weren't afforded the opportunity (of a scholarship)."
Mousseau said she chose Minnesota partly because coach Tyler Thomson made her feel welcomed.
"A lot of coaches showed a lot of interest and called me a lot, but (Thomson) wrote me some of the nicest emails I've ever gotten from any coach," she said. "It's a good feeling to know you are wanted. That not only do you want the school, but they really want you."
After an eye-opening freshman year and a confidence-building sophomore season, Mousseau was enjoying her best year on the court during her junior campaign last season.
"My junior year, I think I read a stat that I was 10-0 when winning the first set in the spring. I played as high as No. 2 singles and was having a successful season.
"And then my mom died. That kind of changed everything."
Mousseau didn't practice for two weeks following Sue Ellen's funeral in Florida.
Returning to the court was difficult for Mousseau. She won her first two matches back in the lineup, but had difficulty keeping her emotions intact as she tried to compete.
"The Big Ten Tournament was tough for me last year. My parents were supposed to be there. My mom had a ticket to come see me, my dad had to cancel and deal with my brothers. I wish I could have been a little more stable then, but the team was there to support me. They've been there for me a lot to help me through the emotional ups and downs."
Mousseau, who contemplated sitting out the fall season to take care of herself, admits her final season has been a struggle, at times.
"I've been grieving for the whole year, and I feel like I'm not just fighting against other people, but myself, and the emotions that I feel. Sometimes, I let it get the best of me, and at times I've overcome it. It's been a seesaw battle."
A public relations major, Mousseau hopes to get a public relations job in Florida upon graduation, so she can be close to her family.
She said she hopes people can learn from her story.
"It's weird to look back. It doesn't feel like a year. I'm really proud of myself," she said. "While the season hasn't really gone as well as I would have liked, I'm still proud of myself that I am still contributing.
"Hopefully people can learn from my story about putting things in perspective and just giving your best no matter what your circumstances are.
"I'm a stronger, mature person," she said. "I feel like if I can leave here, I can do anything. I'm not gonna walk on water, but I'm more appreciative of my life."
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