Saving Ace: Alice Duranteau’s dream of being a doctor

Alice Duranteau wants to become a doctor and help people. Tennis has provided the chances and the skills to chase her dream.

Michael Tao/Senior Staff

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When Alice Duranteau sees a tennis player preparing to serve, she sees more than a person with a racket and a ball.

She sees a complex machine at work. She sees a network of tissues, muscles, bones and tendons working together in harmony.

Alice is amazed at how each individual part of the human body serves an overall purpose.

“It’s just fascinating knowing how the human body is made,” Alice says. “It’s so complex, but it works perfectly on its own. It just gets me fascinated every time I open the book.”

That fascination has brought Alice halfway around the world to Berkeley to pursue her passion of becoming a doctor. In France, where she grew up, high school athletes have to choose between joining a sports club or going to university, but Alice couldn’t give up tennis yet.

So Alice decided to come to America where she could do both.

Alice is now a junior on Cal’s women’s tennis team, but she is also one of the many pre-med hopefuls at the university. She is a biology major and math minor, taking some of the toughest classes Cal offers.

But Alice relishes the classes. For example, Biology 1A, known for being notoriously difficult, is Alice’s favorite class she has taken at Berkeley.

“The exams make it probably the hardest class I’ve taken,” says Alice. “But I love learning how everything functions, and they relate it to everyday diseases people have.”

Alice hasn’t decided the specific field she wants to pursue yet, but she knows one thing for sure — she wants to help people.

Growing up with two parents that are also doctors, that desire to help people was natural for Alice.

“There are a lot of ways to help humanity, but with medicine you are closer to people,” says Alice’s mother Lise. “We build our life with the energy we get from the results of our work.”

When Alice was 4, her dad Jacques introduced her to tennis.

She would play tennis with her father at the local country club on the outskirts of Paris. With her mom, she would swim. When she was 12, Alice moved to a school at which she could only focus on one sport. She chose to pursue tennis and never looked back.

For Alice, tennis is her outlet for expression. When she steps onto the court, she feels like an artist making something that is uniquely hers. Through tennis, she was able to improve as a person both on and off the court.

“You have your own game — no one has your shots,” she says. “You learn about yourself and fight against some bad habits that you have.”

As her love of tennis grew, Alice never thought about being a doctor. She was actually turned off from the medical field when she was young because her parents were busy with work. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t see them more often.

“Early in my life, I was a little pissed at my parents,” Alice says. “I was hearing about my friends spending time, going to the movies or going somewhere with their parents, and I never went out with my family.”

At age 16, Alice realized that her parents were as passionate about medicine as she was about tennis. Alice’s frustration turned to admiration. She realized that she wanted to help people like her parents.

However, she couldn’t do both in France. Becoming a doctor there can take up to 10 years, but the first two are medicine only — she would have had to give up tennis.

Alice wasn’t ready to give up her lifelong love of tennis just yet. In order to pursue both tennis and medicine simultaneously, she had to come to America.

While Alice was looking for schools, she was drawn to Cal due to its strong academics. During her trip to Cal, Alice met other international players who helped make her feel comfortable.

Alice saw how other European players were able to balance rigorous academics with ambitious athletic goals. And when Cal offered her a scholarship, Alice’s decision was easy.

“How could you even say no?” Alice says about coming to Berkeley. “It’s very inspiring here. They teach you how to go for your dreams and see things bigger.”

Now that Alice is at Cal, she’s found pursuing both of her dreams to be both challenging and rewarding.

Tennis begins for Alice at 7:45 a.m. every morning for conditioning and weights. She then has class during the middle of the day before tennis practice from 2-6 p.m. She then heads to the Student Learning Center to study with her tutors. She often doesn’t get home until late at night.

During fall and spring semesters, Alice doesn’t have the four-hour blocks of free time to fit in the necessary labs she needs for her biology major. She can’t take all the classes she needs to be on pace to graduate.

So Alice has to take summer classes, giving up opportunities to be back in France with her family over the break. Last year, she went through a seven-month stretch which she didn’t go back home.

When she did go back home, it was a brief 10-day visit.

The roles between Alice and her parents are now switched — Alice is the one working so hard and so long that she can never be at home with her family.

But despite the long separation, her parents understand.

“We are happy if Alice is fulfilling her project,” Lise says. “We have no philosophy besides this belief: you are the sole person who knows what you like, what you need and what you wish — so do it.”

In Berkeley, Alice is doing it. Despite the difficulty, she knows the long journey will pay dividends for her in the end.

“I tell myself it’s worth it,” Alice says. “Because I’m going to do something with it.”

Riley McAtee covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].