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Men's Tennis  . 

Dedication On and Off the Court Pays Off for Former Gamecock

by Brad Muller

Whether it’s fighting through some physical pain or working for the same company for the last three decades, former South Carolina tennis standout Tom Eklund (2002-2006) has shown that hard work and dedication will pay off. Now the Treasurer for First Citizens Bank in Raleigh, North Carolina, Eklund is thankful for his experiences on and off the court while at South Carolina to get to where he is now.

“It’s been an interesting journey. When I first started, we were an eight- or nine-billion-dollar bank in Columbia, South Carolina, and now we’re now one of the 15 largest in the country,” said Eklund. “If there is one thing that athletics teaches you, it is that if you work hard, it typically works out, and that played out here.”

A native of Hollviken, Sweden, a couple of his coaches back home had played at South Carolina previously, and that led him to the Gamecocks.

“I knew a couple of guys on the team, and I knew the coach,” Eklund said. “Moving across the ocean was obviously a big decision, and that helped alleviate some of the concerns.”

While at South Carolina, Eklund worked his way up the lineup in his first two years, and he played in the No. 1 singles spot in his final two seasons with the Gamecocks, while also playing No. 1 doubles as a senior. He helped South Carolina reach the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons under former head coach Kent DeMars.

“Being at the University helped me in many ways, both on the tennis side of things, and more importantly, on the professional side. I’m grateful to the University.”
Tom Eklund  . 

Eklund earned First team All-SEC honors as a junior and helped the Gamecocks reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament that year. In April of that season, Eklund defeated Georgia’s John Isner, who was ranked No. 13 in the country and would later become one of the top 10 players in the world as a professional, to help the Gamecocks upend the eighth-ranked Bulldogs 4-3.

“I don’t know if he was the highest ranked player I beat, but we beat a couple of really good teams that year,” Eklund said. “We had a really good team my junior year. Overall, my best memories are just hanging out with the guys on the team. I enjoyed playing tennis.”

As a senior in 2006, Eklund was recognized as South Carolina’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, received the H. Boyd McWhorter post-graduate scholarship, and the Athletics Department’s Inspiration Award. Eklund played with a severe back injury that left him in constant pain.

“It’s a stress fracture in my lower back. It’s something I’ve had since I was a little kid,” Eklund said. “I dealt with back pain a good bit. Luckily, I practiced a lot before I went to college, and Coach DeMars was kind enough to provide some flexibility. I just tried to listen to my body, did some physical therapy, and tried to focus on playing matches, more so than practice. It’s what I had to do.

“What really got me was when we had to do long travel, and I had to be seated for a long period of time before and after matches. That aggravated everything around there, and I would have more pain in my lower back.”

Looking back, Eklund has a fondness for the opportunities afforded to him by being a Gamecock.

“I really enjoyed my time at the school,” said Eklund who was a double major with degrees in finance and management. “Coach DeMars and (assistant) Coach (Jeff) Kefalos were both great influences on me. They helped me get my first job at the bank, and I’ve been with them ever since I graduated. I started there in Columbia, and I’m still with the bank here in Raleigh. Being at the University helped me in many ways, both on the tennis side of things, and more importantly, on the professional side. I’m grateful to the University.

“I also met my wife (Carly Hensel) at school. She was a swimmer at South Carolina.”

Tom and Carly are the proud parents of a son and two daughters. Now that he’s not spending 30 to 40 hours per week on a hard tennis court, his back is doing much better!

“I miss it a little bit, but these days I play more golf than tennis,” Eklund said. “With three kids, I only get so many free hours.”