ASHLAND, Ore. — Two years ago, River Davis reached the 5A State Tennis Tournament. The next season, she didn’t return. Instead, she spent the year in Japan.
“I definitely wanted to experience what it was like as a Japanese high schooler because I’m half-Japanese so I had the American identity, but I didn’t really know the other half of myself,” said Davis.
She spoke some Japanese that she learned from her father and moved in with extended family in the small town of Ofuna. There, she attended a regular Japanese high school.”
“The high school I attended had never had an exchange student before,” said Davis. “They had no idea what to do with me. They just threw me in class, and they were like, ‘OK, you can do this.'”
It wasn’t long before River made friends at her school and was speaking Japanese fluently, but she still felt like an outsider.
“There’s this stigma with half-American, half-Japanese people in Japan,” said Davis. “People would come up to me on the train and ask me if I was half-Japanese and they’d take pictures. It was really weird.”
Davis joined the tennis team at her Japanese school, but practice there is very different than practice here.
“The amount of effort that they put into tennis and school really shocked me,” said Davis.
She practiced four to five hours a day all year round. It was so strenuous, she almost gave it up when she got back to the states.
“When I got back I was definitely really burnt out from tennis a lot,” said Davis. “I had never dedicated that much of my time to anything in my life.”
“That commitment was so huge,” said Ashland tennis coach Gail Patton. “We reminded her that the commitment this year should be about fun.”
River decided to rejoin the Grizzlies a year after their state championship.
“She had a whole year’s worth of incredible experiences but no one here that shared them with her, and then everybody who was on the team last year and especially those kids that went to state, they had an experience without River,” said Patton. “I think if I’d been in River’s shoes, I would have thought, ‘oh my gosh, I left for a year and they won.'”
That’s not the way River sees it though.
“I’m hoping we’ll win again this year,” said Davis.
With River on the team, that’s a good possibility. Whether the Grizzlies win or not, Davis’s time away was worth it.
“This was the first opportunity in my life where I had dictated my fate,” said Davis. “Up until this point our futures are dictated by parents. Go to school until this age and then go to college, and I just felt like I took my own future into my own hands.”
Now her future is in Ashland, but it’s her past that will serve her well on the courts and in life.