Tennis pro Anna Kournikova visits hundreds of military children as part of a USO tour to Guam in 2008. (Photo credit: Dave Gatley / USO)
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Kournikova Brings Smiles, Empathy to Deployed Military Children

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

It didn’t take much for Anna Kournikova to become involved with the USO. Actually, if the USO didn’t meet her, it sounds like she was going to find a way to meet them.

“I was in Washington for another charity event [in 2008] and I met with some people from the USO and I just thought this was something that I wanted to do,” the former tennis star and model said in a recent phone interview. “I just wanted to show my appreciation and felt that connection to the military families. For those living in Guam, Turkey, Germany. What about them?

“It was a natural match for me, to go and hang out with them.”

Anna could empathize. Growing up in Russia while it was still a part of the Soviet Union, the tennis prodigy left for America at age 9 to train at the famous Nick Bollettieri tennis academy and by the age of 14, she was flying around the professional tennis circuit. So moving to a new land and being asked to grow up a lot faster than most kids their age are situations that Kournikova and military children can relate to and share.

“It’s hard for children, when they start developing friendships and relationships; it gets really hard for them. It’s just a tough life, that’s why I think it’s important to have organizations like the USO to make their time away from home as comfortable as possible.”

And for Anna, the USO joins the Boys and Girls Club of America and Population Services International as the main benefactors of her time and passion. After her pro tennis career ended, Anna was adamant about finding worthy causes to assist, to give back to those who gave her so much.

“I’ve always felt close to kids, [ages] 14, 15, 16 or even the little ones, a lot of times it’s hard for them to talk to adults around them or their parents so I think it’s great for others to come in and have them open up, knowing I’m not going to tell anyone what they say or what they ask and give them support and give any help or advice I can and share my experiences.”

She still has the same smile that made the tennis world fall for her, but now she’s bringing it to a generation that sees her as more than just another pretty face. She’s a friend.

Now, after not being able to participate in a USO tour in 2011 due to her work on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," Anna prepares to visit U.S. bases in Spain on April 14-18 on her fourth USO tour. And in conversation, she leaves no doubt how anxious she is be back out on the road to see the kids.

"It’s my way to give back to America and the American people for how much America has given to me."

* * * 

Read more comments from Anna and see more images from her past USO tours here. 

(Photo caption: Anna Kournikova visits hundreds of military children as part of a USO tour to Guam in 2008. Credit: Dave Gatley / USO) 

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