Andrea Jaeger, grew up in Skokie and Lincolnshire, was a tennis prodigy in the 1980s, but when injuries ended pro career she knew that “what I was really called to do” on a full-time basis “was starting” — helping kids with cancer. Runs charity, was also an Episcopalian nun for several years.

Andrea Jaeger, 52, was “a professional tennis player at the age of 14,” ranked No. 2 in the “world at age 16 . . . been the director of Little Star Foundation for several decades . . . We provide opportunities to children with cancer and children in need . . . Thankfully, I was able to have that tennis career” because her charity is “where I put my millions of dollars.”

Lived in Skokie as a kid before moving to Lincolnshire. Attended Stevenson High School.

Learned tennis from her dad, who learned “from watching tennis on TV.”

Andrea Jaeger in 1979, a 14-year-old freshman at Stevenson High School. She turned pro that year and rose to No. 2 in the world. Her career was cut short by a shoulder injury five years later. | Sun-Times files

“I ended up only going on the driveway at first. My dad didn’t want to waste court time . . . if I couldn’t hit a ball over the net.”

She kept “swinging and missing . . . He was very patient.”

One day, she connected with the ball, and it flew “across the street into the neighbor’s yard, and it was so exciting.”

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“I’ve been told by many people that I have a gift of faith,” but she wasn’t brought up in a religious household.

Her parents ran a restaurant, toiling into the wee hours on weekends. “So we didn’t go to church in the morning on Sunday.”

While her parents taught “very good morals . . . there wasn’t a bible in the house . . . no prayer at the table.”

“But, for whatever reason, I just always felt connected to God.”

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Andrea Jaeger on Tennis magazine’s December 1980 cover.

Once, she was on her knees in her room, hands folded, praying, and her mom walked in.

“I paused . . . Nobody did any of that in the house . . . She didn’t say anything.”

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What was her relationship with God like?

“It was of my essence . . . Waking up there was always a joyfulness, like, ‘OK, God, here we go, what’s today going to bring?’ I always had that as a child, and it was very prominent in my decision-making. . . . I really wanted to do good. And the other thing that I always knew is, regardless of whatever happened in life, that God was always . . . present for everyone . . . That was just instilled in my heart.”

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Her faith kept her “grounded” amid her tennis success. “I felt that I wanted to use my talents to serve God,” not just win matches. “And no one knew that side of me” back then.

That faith also helped her transition from pro tennis when injuries ended her playing career while she was a young adult.

Felt a strong pull toward helping kids in need, but some on the pro tennis circuit didn’t look favorably on her charitable efforts, feeling they made other players “look bad.”

Not yet 20, Jaeger said she asked God to “decide” whether she should be playing full-time or helping children full-time.

At the French Open in the mid-1980s, her shoulder “popped” — and, she says, “I know God decided.”

Within a few years, following surgeries, her tennis career was over.

Young Andrea Jaeger makes a return on her way to a victory over Renee Richards at the U.S. Open Clay Court Championship in Indianapolis on Aug. 5, 1981. | AP files

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Commutes between Florida and Colorado, where her foundation has offices.

Foundation offers “therapeutic camp and recreational activities . . . also . . . financial assistance . . . We send kids to college.” The program provides “long-term care” because, “as anybody knows, cancer or any type of distress or poverty doesn’t come for one day.”

Andrea Jaeger with John McEnroe. | Courtesy of Andrea Jaeger

Has gotten donations from, among others, former tennis star John McEnroe, and a lot of her time is spent raising money.

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When she prays, she feels there’s “a response . . . guidance” and sometimes “miracles and blessings,” including for the sick children her charity helps.

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“Sometimes, I think that God puts me in places for other people’s faith to be restored or inspired.”

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“We all need to share our best, and my faith is my best. It was way better than my tennis.”

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Andrea Jaeger in February 2007, when she was an Episcopalian nun, at the headquarters of her Little Star Foundation near Hesperus, Colo. | AP

After her tennis career, she studied ministry and theology and was an Episcopalian nun for several years.

“Resigned from having the title” after scheduling conflicts with her foundation made it tough to attend required church events, “but still follow the principles.”

Why a nun? She felt “called to that level” and jokes, “I grew up with the ‘Sound of Music’ — I went to see that in Skokie.”

At first, God was “just a powerful illumination and presence,” but, later, “Jesus was part of that.”

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With Serena Williams and children. | Courtesy of Andrea Jaeger

With Roger Federer. | Courtesy of Andrea Jaeger

Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times, with an accompanying audio podcast, with additional content, available at chicago.suntimes.com and on iTunes and Google Play.

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