Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Texas women’s tennis player Sabina Zeynalova finds strength in vulnerability

Darby Tippit
Junior Sabina Zeynalova prepares to hit the ball on Feb. 18, 2024. Zeynalova hung her Ukrainian flag on the bench during this match against Auburn University.

Content warning: This story contains mentions of disordered eating.

Sabina Zeynalova, a psychology junior from Kyiv, Ukraine balances D1 tennis, school and social life, all while dealing with the war back home and the toll it’s taken on her mental health.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Zeynalova remembers being filled with anger and fear. The stress of the war exacerbated an eating disorder she didn’t know she had until a UT dietician brought it up to her.

Zeynalova began seeing a performance coach outside of the University and worked with a UT therapist and Texas Athletics dietitian Amy Culp to build healthy habits while dealing with the distress the war in Ukraine brought. The first seven months included constant therapy. 

“Every week my schedule was packed with just me trying to figure out, ‘How do I even function as a person and athlete, like at the same time?’” Zeynalova said. 

She began to notice an improvement in how she felt, thanks to the patience and support she received from Texas staff. She said they never made her feel like she was annoying them with her problems. 

“We’re there to help them with the same things they want,” Culp said about her role as dietitian for Texas athletes. “To help them be successful, to help them feel good and help them to feel confident.”

Zeynalova has always been candid about her struggles with mental health, but opening up helped her feel less alone.

“The amount of texts I received after posting it on social media was incredible, and there’s actually so many people who are struggling,” Zeynalova said. “I just think it’s okay to normalize.”

Part of what allowed Zeynalova to recover, Culp said, was her vulnerability. It allowed Culp to work with her on developing healthy nutrition strategies, like moderation and balance, so she could reach her goals in tennis. 

Texas women’s tennis head coach, Howard Joffe, said he’s noticed a positive change in Zeynalova on and off the court. 

“She’s a stellar student,” Joffe said. “She’s worked her way up on certainly one of the best tennis programs in the country to play number one on the team. And, by the way, win. … You can’t function that way if you aren’t taking care of the whole person.”

For Zeynalova, success in tennis comes from maintaining healthy eating habits and reminding herself why she started. 

“I’m playing for myself.”

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