(page 12 of 17)
by Jenna Marotta
THEN Teen tennis phenom (early 1980s)
NOW Advocate for children in need
Andrea Jaeger burst from the suburban Chicago tennis scene onto the world circuit with the velocity of an overhead smash. Growing up in Lincolnshire, she turned pro at 14 and at 16 was ranked second among the world’s female players. But in truth Jaeger didn’t fit the mold of a tennis phenom. She agonized at the sight of the heartbroken opponents she had vanquished. She even admits that she “didn’t try” against Martina Navratilova in the 1983 Wimbledon finals because she knew victory mattered more to Navratilova. “My dad didn’t say a word to me afterward,” Jaeger recalls.
After an injury cut short her career when she was 18, she began to explore her deepening religious faith and desire to ease the suffering of seriously ill children. Soon she began giving away her $1.4 million in winnings to hospitals in Florida, and she sold her Mercedes to buy toys for children with cancer. “If God gave me this gift to play tennis, this money isn’t really mine to keep,” she recalls thinking.
In 1990, Jaeger cofounded the nonprofit Little Star Foundation to benefit young victims of illness, poverty, abuse, and natural disasters. Soon after that, she began studying religion, eventually earning a degree in theology and ministry training. In 2006, she joined the Episcopal Church’s Anglican Dominican order. “For me, becoming a nun was a natural step, one I was grateful to do,” she says. But running a charity and fulfilling her vows proved challenging. In the fall of 2009, when foundation duties prevented her from attending a quarterly convocation, Jaeger decided to leave the church. “My way to honor God was to be in the sisterhood, but then I realized God didn’t need that,” she says from her foundation’s Rancho Milagro (Miracle Ranch) in Durango, Colorado.
Today, Jaeger, 45, raises millions of dollars annually for children in need. Each year, Little Star hosts 25 retreats for sick children and their families, enabling them to enjoy adventures ranging from swimming with dolphins to attending shows on Broadway. “I didn’t need to be a professional tennis player to make a difference in the world,” she says. “And I didn’t need to be Sister Andrea Jaeger to help children and share God’s love.”
Photography: (Jaeger, then) Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune; (Jaeger, now) Jerry McBride/AP