BABE #112: MICHELLE LARCHER DE BRITO, Professional Tennis Player
Michelle is a hustlin' Babe personified. After watching her dad and older brothers play tennis as a child, she decided to pick up a racket and learn how to "do it better." At age 15, she packed up and immigrated from Lisbon, Portugal to Bradenton, Florida where she started her professional tennis career, and the rest is history. With a chart-topping record, a few serious injuries and a whole lot of resilience, she has an incredibly inspiring story to tell, and we're so honored she has chosen to share it with us today.
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
Current city: Bradenton, Florida
Alma mater: N/A
Very first job: What I do now! I started playing professionally at 15 years old.
Hustle: Professional Tennis Player
Babe you admire and why?
Steffi Graf. She was my favorite player growing up and was a big inspiration in my career choice.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Netflix! The new download feature allows me to actually watch on airplanes. This summer when I was traveling to England for Wimbledon, I finally binge-watched all of “Breaking Bad.”
Must-have item in your purse?
Chapstick. Can’t live without it.
Go-to coffee order?
Favorite beauty item?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Pizza, hands down. Preferably made by my mom.
11. Favorite social media account to follow?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ed Sheeran. (And it would still be a Coke.)
Tell us about your hustle:
I play tennis professionally. Basically, I try to hit the ball harder than the other girl, over and over, until I win!
What does your typical workday look like?
"Typical" is one thing my days lack. I don’t do 9-5 with weekends to enjoy. My “typical” day depends on the season, where I'm located, and my health. When I’m home: practice, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. I squeeze lunch and my workout in-between those, and on good days a little bit of a snooze. Sometimes my days only end when the sun goes down and I’m out of light. When I’m on the road, your guess is as good as mine. It includes airplanes, airports, car rentals, hotels, restaurants and patience. Patience in airports, patience at the tournament waiting for my match to get started. Warming up, sitting back down, warming up again. Patience, especially when you’re in San Diego and your tournament overlaps with Comic-Con week and there’s not a hotel within 50 miles of where your tournament is being held.
When and how were you first introduced to tennis? Have you always known you wanted to pursue the sport at the professional level?
My father is a big tennis fan and he introduced my twin brothers—who are four years older than me— first. I tagged along as a youngster, mostly collecting insects and doing my own thing. When I got older, I wanted to do what my brothers did—only better. From there, I slowly started joining with my racket. My exact words were, “Daddy, give me a racket. I can do it better!”
How has your tennis training, coaching and schedule looked like up until now? How many hours (on average) do you spend each day on the court, and how do you balance such a demanding schedule?
On average, between the gym and tennis practice, it’s about six to seven hours out of competition. To keep up that demand requires dedication, rest, sacrifice and being organized. My secret to a demanding schedule: pizza, chocolate and Coca-Cola.
How does your work environment change from day to day?
My work environment is a 36’ x 78’ piece of tar with a cute net splitting it in half. Being on tour every week, my environment stays consistently inconsistent. You’re constantly trying to be better than what you were the week before, and waking up in a different city than the last. Sometimes you’re homesick because you’ve been on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase. Other times you’re fatigued and want to rest, but you still have another two weeks to go before you can go home. Mix in the fact that you set goals you want to achieve, and you’ve got my everyday dilemma.
What traits or habits do you think all great athletes need to be successful?
Discipline, sacrifice, and routine. There’s nothing easy about being a professional athlete, but if you’re willing to make sacrifices and work harder than the next person, you put yourself in a great position to succeed.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Not much of a ratio gap, however, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has been working hard to get equal prize money for the four Grand Slam events. Luckily, a few years ago, they accomplished it!
Do you consider your hustle the American Dream?
That's exactly what it is to me. My family believed in me so much that we all packed up and left everything we knew in Portugal to come to America to chase that dream when I was just 9 years old. I couldn’t be where I am today without my parents and brothers. They all sacrificed for me to be where I am today, so I compete for them just as much as I do for myself. At age 15, I turned professional and we finally got to taste the American Dream. Through my hustle, I gained U.S. citizenship and my parents will be citizens in 2019. My dream will finally come true when my twin brothers, Sebastian and Sergio, are granted their citizenship and we can all be together again.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That it’s glitz and glamour.
What’s something anyone pursuing a career as an athlete should know?
That you have to eat, sleep and drink your career. There's no way around it.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
The exhaustion, the countless hours of training, and the nonstop hustle of having to be in prime shape or you will be left in the dust by other Babes.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
One of my biggest obstacles was overcoming a big wrist surgery after an injury I suffered two years ago at Wimbledon. Being out for eight months and having to go from running a mile a minute to slamming my breaks to zero was not easy. It's a tough journey, physically and mentally. When I finally overcome it, I’ll let you know.
How do you keep yourself in prime physical shape for your work? What kind of workout routine and/or diet does that entail?
I am not a diet type of person. I believe you should eat healthily and fuel your body with the right foods. But if you want those fries, or that chocolate, go for it! My daily life is a workout routine.
What’s your favorite thing about playing tennis? About being an athlete?
Traveling. I’m 24 years old and I’ve managed to travel to almost everywhere in the world.
What about your least favorite?
Losing and being away from home for extended periods of time.
What would you say is your biggest strength?
My fighting spirit. I’ve never been a quitter in anything, and I always bring that into my matches.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
On the court, my temper. Off the court, my stubbornness.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Unfortunately, the women in my field are the same women whom I have to try and beat every week. I get inspired by athletes who have a story to tell, whether it be women or men in tennis or in other sports.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I’m passionate about sports and animals, so naturally, my free time goes to those things. In my community, I help with a special-needs baseball organization called The Miracle League of Manasota. I also help rescue and foster dogs, and my family is currently working on a side project: a dog hospitality and rescue facility called Barksbnb (like Airbnb). It’s such a great idea, we felt dogs needed it too!
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into the tennis world?
Push yourself, do your best, and keep your head up. You will face many obstacles, let-downs and heartbreaks, and the most important thing is to not let them throw you off-track. You will have people tell you that you can’t do it, or that you are not good enough, strong enough, tall enough, etc. You must use that as motivation and not as a let-down. Believe me, there will be plenty of negativity; sometimes it will even come from the people you least expect it from. Chin up, wipe off that sweat, and keep your eyes on the prize.
What motivates and inspires you?
Good people. There’s so much bad in the world, so when I see people doing good it inspires me to want to do the same.
What does success look like to you?
I believe success is being comfortable and happy. People tend to think success is about how much money you have in your bank account, but what is money without happiness and good health?
How do you find a work-life balance?
With difficulty! I often times get invited for social events and I sometimes just have to stay home with my dogs and a pizza and rest. It’s a struggle, but I make it work. Fortunately, I have amazing friends who understand.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
My dogs are my therapy. They just know when I’m having a bad day. I usually deal with my stress with an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a large pizza and lots of doggie snuggles.
What are some notable (funny, embarrassing, intense) experiences you’ve had on the job?
When I was a junior, there was a cute tree frog at the back of the court towards the end of my match. I started playing my shots right at the baseline without moving back. After the match my dad and some coaches complimented me on how well I did for being on top of the baseline, with my response being: “Well, yeah! There was a tree frog back there that I didn’t want to squish!”
Career and/or life advice for other Babes?
While we’re all out and about hustling, busting our butts and stressing out, remember to take a step back to reflect and put things into perspective. Sometimes issues seem bigger than what they are during your daily hustle and bustle; remember your "me" time. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with stress and lose sight on what you’re working so hard for.
Connect with Michelle!
This interview has been condensed and edited.
All photos are property of Michelle de Brito.
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