These Bellevue sisters are helping kids discover tennis and offering safe outdoor exercise during COVID-19

Tony Cowger
3 min readNov 2, 2020


“Before the words ‘quarantine’ and ‘social distancing’ became part of the everyday global lexicon and re-evaluating finances and exercise were commonplace, Shriya Challam was devising a plan inadvertently suited for the tumultuous year of 2020.

When schools shuttered in Washington in March because of the spread of COVID-19, Challam finalized her idea, and added additional safety measures to safeguard from the virus. As many emerged from quarantining with new skills in baking or dancing, Challam unveiled her project: Time To Tennis (, a nonprofit foundation that introduces kids to the sport by providing free equipment, coaching and workshops. The growing organization has already raised $1,000 to date.

The Interlake High School senior aimed to make tennis more accessible for kids — regardless of their families’ income or background. Once government restrictions are lifted, Challam wants to build to hosting monthly events where two courts are filled with 20–30 elementary-aged kids and four coaches to teach the basics such as how to hold a racket, serving and the importance of stretching.

Amid the pandemic, Challam’s debut was a five-day clinic where 10 kids participated in completely free lessons and were gifted equipment, if needed. She also offered private lessons last summer for $15, all of the proceeds going to the foundation. Having already expanded to chapters in Texas, Illinois and California where the programs are duplicated, the completely youth-led Time To Tennis is another pandemic tale in how a simple idea can connect so many.

‘When people think about tennis, they don’t necessarily think about it as something that’s accessible and they don’t think about it as something that’s for everyone,’ Challam said. ‘It has this history of being for a specific group of people with a specific background, with a specific amount of money. To break down that history of tennis is something that we’re aiming to do.

‘It’s not to make these kids tennis stars. The goal is to make sure these kids are staying active and having fun while also being safe. Because community service is always something I’ve really liked and been a part of. For me, tennis is a great hobby to have.’

If Challam needed a sign that her foundation could succeed, it beamed in a graphic published by the Texas Medical Association in July. The graphic showed the risk of contracting COVID-19 by playing tennis was a 2 out of 10 (10 being the highest) in relation to other activities — the same risk as pumping gas, getting takeout food and going camping.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA), the national governing body for the sport, reported last month an uptick of 3.4% of players in comparison with 2019.

It’s easy to spot the interest in the Seattle area, where courts at Seward Park and Discovery Park are popular. But if you’re new to the sport, equipment like a racket, shoes, balls and apparel, plus court fees and lessons, can quickly add up to $300 annually if you play just once a month.

‘If you play with regular running shoes, it can actually be detrimental to your feet,’ Challam said. ‘You have to be wearing correct shoes to be playing. And if you live in a different environment, you have different types of courts — clay courts, hard courts — and shoes can cost up to $100. That in and of itself is super expensive, just to make sure you’re not harming yourself and your feet for the long term.’

For Challam, it was the $170 per player her Interlake teammates wanted to spend on uniforms in 2018 that made her stop and think about how financial constraints can keep people from the sport.”

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Originally published at on November 2, 2020.