Far from home, Slabbert adjusts to Eastern


Photo courtesy of Sandy King | Eastern Athletics Department

Eastern freshman Cameron Slabbert, a native of South Africa, said he is adjusting to life at Eastern as well as the United States. Slabbert is a member of the Eastern men’s tennis team.

Vince Lovergine, Men's Tennis Reporter

Residing in Somerset West, Western Cape, South Africa, Eastern men’s tennis freshmen Cameron Slabbert is a 32-hour plane ride away from Illinois—let that sink in.

Slabbert comes to Eastern at 19 years old as the middle child, with one older sister and one younger sister. It’s a transition that may seem difficult,  but Slabbert said there were not many changes coming to America, but some things stood out.

“The biggest change was getting used to lights turning on by themselves, that’s pretty fun because I was used to a light switch,” he said with a laugh. “Culturally, people here (in America) are more forward with things in the manner they do things … while back at home things are a bit more relaxed.”

One thing Slabbert mentioned was adjusting to the diversity the Panther team has. Right now, Eastern has 11 other players who are from different countries.

“It helps me a lot in the sense of we can talk about things like getting home sick, staying in contact with friends from back home,” Slabbert said. “The juniors and seniors can give advice because they’ve been in our shoes, and my shoes, which I think is really helpful.”

What started Slabbert’s journey in tennis was his dad introducing him to the sport, which he played quite frequently. However, Andre Van Der Merwe, a volunteer coach in South Africa who is also a retired tennis professional, practiced with Slabbert for three to four years. Van Der Merwe is the one who instilled the love and addiction Slabbert has for tennis

“He’s probably the biggest inspiration and reason for being where I am today,” he said. “As well as my dad supporting me through all the wins and losses and the urge of wanting to quit and the times I was extremely happy.”

Two players took Slabbert under their wing, one being junior Logan Charbonneau who helped him get his feet wet on campus. The other was senior Gage Kingsmith, who Slabbert said helped in “making those awkward moments not awkward” due to Kingsmith’s bubbly personality. But Slabbert said everyone has chipped in in some fashion along the way during the whole experience.

There have been challenges for Slabbert. One he has faced for most of his life is being diagnosed with ADHD in the 10th grade. Another issue was facing multiple injuries including a shattered left knee, stress fracture in his right arm and fracturing is wrist before coming to Eastern.

When Slabbert was diagnosed, school work was not important to him and he had a hard time focusing on school, but everything revolved around tennis.

But ADHD is not all that bad when it comes to competing in matches.

“I finally get a lot less nervous when I take Ritalin … When I take it and I have to play a match afterwards I tend to get very nervous and shaky to a point where it gets very, very bad so sometimes, depending on how I feel going into a tournament I’ll decide whether or not I’ll take it those days or not,” he said.

Slabbert mentioned it is different for anyone who has ADHD, but it varies on occasion if Ritalin will help him or hinder him for a match.

In just three short months, Slabbert has been labeled as the “dad” by the freshmen and some of his other teammates or the soon to be “dad” when the seniors leave.

“I’ve just been very independent since I was very young when it comes to looking out for myself in the sense of things, it’s nothing against my parents or anything like that it was just naturally how I grew up and learned how to operate.”

That mentality came from Slabbert knowing he would be so far away from home, instead of reaching out and relying on others.

Slabbert found Eastern on the Universal Tennis Ranking, where a player can search colleges that match their rank and found Eastern was a highly ranked school for his playing level.

In an email, head coach Chris Tolson explained his vision for the program and that is what sold Slabbert.

“He presents a very understanding version of the game,” Slabbert said. “A lot of coaches tend to tell you what you should do … and Coach Chris comes up with a very good understanding of pointing out things that I never thought of within my whole nine years of playing tennis.”

Tolson said that he was drawn to Slabbert’s talent, but his attitude was what stood out.

“Cameron’s big serve is what first got my attention, but as I was recruiting him it was his personality and passion,” Tolson said. “He has a love for the game, wanting to get better every day.”

So far, Slabbert said he is enjoying his first time being in America, and he loves the quick Wi-Fi and has yet to get a cell phone plan because anywhere he walks on campus, he can use the Wi-Fi. Unlimited soda has also stood out and he is not used to that. Although it is nice, Slabbert said it is easier to lose your six pack.

He said the professionalism of how the coaches operate and the professionalism of the athletic facilities and having a lot of access is also a plus.

While it might be a struggle being so far away from home, Slabbert mentioned it is not all about him, it is about his family as well.

“Pretty much free to do whatever I please, mess up my life however I please, which is kind of out of (my parents’) control … and I try not to get into situations where they miss me too much and makes life hard for them,” Slabbert said.


Vince Lovergine can be reachedat 581-2812 or [email protected].