When most people look at Kyle Seelig, they see one of the top NCAA men’s tennis players in the country.
They see an OSU Scholar Athlete, or a red-shirt junior who finished his sophomore year tied for the most singles wins on the Ohio State roster. They might even see a team leader, who leads by example through his sportsmanship on and off the court.
What people often don’t see is Seelig’s deep Christian faith, and how his trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe changed his outlook on life.
Seelig, from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, grew up in a Christian household. He regularly went to church with his family and attended Plumstead Christian School.
He was a High School Tennis All-American his senior year, and never lost a high school match. Seelig was a Blue Chip and a five-star recruit according to the Tennis Recruiting Network and was ranked No. 17 in the class of 2015 based on his TennisRPI. When it came time to pick a college, he had plenty of choices.
“I went on six visits to Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, TCU, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech,” Seelig said. “They were all really great programs, but I saw what Ty [Ohio State Head Coach Ty Tucker] did with players once they get here. Every year, year in and year out, they’re winning the Big Ten and competing for a national title. I knew it was going to be tough to play here but I wanted the challenge.”
After picking Ohio State over Michigan, Seelig sat out his freshman year, giving him the chance to get to know the coaching staff and team and adjust to college–level tennis.
As a redshirt-freshman during the 2016-17 season, he posted a singles record of 30-7 and finished runner-up to Northwestern’s Dominik Stary in the finals of the Big Ten Singles Championship. He posted a record of 32-10 his redshirt-sophomore year and had the most tournament wins in singles. Now in his redshirt-junior season, Seelig has put up a 13-7 record so far.
He credits Coach Tucker and the coaching staff for the team’s success, mainly due to the demanding daily practices the team has.
“Ty works us so hard that by the time it’s match day we’re in shape,” Seelig said. “I believe we are the hardest working team in the country, and I think other teams would agree as well.”
Another aspect of Seelig’s game is mental preparation. Roughly two hours before a match he takes some time to mentally prepare himself to compete and think about what he has to do to succeed in the match. Part of his mentality his knowing that everything he does on and off the court is to honor God.
“I believe that every time I step out on the court, whether I win or lose, that if I gave my best and I tried my hardest that God really doesn’t care about that,” Seelig said. “Obviously, I want to win for the university, I want to win for my teammates, but when it comes down to it, I don’t put the pressure on myself because I know that there is a savior who loves me.”
Seelig believes that sports and faith go hand in hand, and he uses tennis to express himself and honor God through his athletic ability. He admits that during parts of his high school years he didn’t have as deep of faith as he does now.
At times he found he didn’t enjoy going to church or learning in his Bible class at school. His first trip overseas to Haiti his junior year of high school changed that.
Seelig’s trip to Haiti centered around working in an orphanage that housed 53 children. He helped to build a swing set, a house for their translator and spent most of his time playing with the children. His interactions with them opened his eyes.
“Before that, I had gone to a small Christian school my whole life, and my only friends were Christian people and I took everything for granted,” Seelig said. “I thought that I had all the answers when in reality everything was just given to me. This was the first time where I realized that I was so privileged to be where I was.”
He described one night sitting out on a dock outside where he was staying and watching the heat lightning over the island. Seelig reflected on his life at that moment and his perspective changed, especially regarding his faith.
“I just sat out there by myself and I remember thinking to myself ‘What are you doing with your life? These kids have nothing, and they have more joy than you. You’ve taken every opportunity and squandered it,’” Seelig said. “After that, I think my perspective changed a lot and it made me realize how thankful I am to be where I am, and that I didn’t deserve it at all.”
The following year he went to the Dominican Republic to work in two schools in a poor area called La Vega outside the capital of Santiago. He went overseas again two and a half years ago to Zimbabwe with the Vision Trust organization, where he helped run a camp for about 400 orphaned children.
Seelig worked with the feeding program for three schools in the area and noted how different life was there compared to living in the U.S. He described the process of cooking sadza for the children, a type of cornmeal porridge, which they made in a pot over a fire using a pitchfork to stir.
“The place where we were was just in the bush. We drove six hours from the airport, and we stayed in mud huts for a week,” Seelig said. “They had no toilets, no showers and we used buckets for showers. It was a special time with just seven other college kids from America. We’d all never been to Africa, and it was amazing.”
Seelig shared anecdotes from his time in Zimbabwe, from visiting the fourteen-century ruin of Great Zimbabwe to going on a safari and walking with lions. He talked fondly about a college student from Zimbabwe he was paired with named Titus, and Titus’ journey of losing both of his parents to AIDS at age five and being bounced in and out of the sponsorship program that gave him his lifesaving AIDS medication.
These trips changed Seelig’s perspective of life, and ultimately who he is as a person and athlete.
“I think it’s the wrong perspective to go over there and think you’re going to change anyone’s life,” Seelig said. “I think if anything a trip like this is for me more than anything. Obviously, I’m going to do whatever I can to come alongside someone. I think for me, just to reflect on what I’ve missed in my life or the thought I had it all together and really didn’t is what I’ve tried to do. It’s not easy.”
With his trips behind him, Seelig carries the lessons he learned with him into his life as an athlete. He tries to use his athletic platform to show his reaffirmed faith through his actions.
“Someday athletics isn’t going to be important and I think it’s just a great platform to display my faith,” Seelig said. “Hopefully people see it in the way that I act, and I hope that I act the way that I would want people to see. Yeah, I get upset sometimes, but I never try to cheat or take short corners.”
Seelig tries to instill this lesson in his teammates by leading by example both on and off the court. He encourages them to listen to their coaches and follow their instructions during matches. Outside of tennis, he tries to make sure he and his teammates are taking care of their bodies by eating right and also “having a little fun, just not getting into trouble.”
“Just little things like that and just going out every day and knowing you represent Ohio State…Ohio State deserves your best every day,” Seelig said. “If you have that mindset, you’re going to do well.”
With just a handful of matches left before the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, Seelig says the team is focused on playing smart. He says whether that’s making second serve returns, playing the way they’re told or not going outside of what they should be doing is key for the team going forward.
“I know for me, and for other guys, something I’m really trying to work on right now is not overplaying and playing the game you’re supposed to play,” Seelig said. “My game is just making people beat themselves, and if I’m going out there and missing second or third balls, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Seelig still has a year of eligibility left with the Ohio State tennis team and is focused on finishing the rest of the season strong. While he isn’t sure what his future will look like after that he does know one thing for sure after his three overseas trips.
“I’ve always had the heart to go overseas,” Seelig said. “I’m an education major, and I don’t know where I’m headed but I know that using my degree in some way, whether it’s teaching or something else, overseas is something that I want to do.”