Game, set, give: From class to court to charity

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Entering his final year of professional tennis, alumnus Marcus Daniell intends to leave a lasting impact through his victories as well as through his sports-focused non-profit once he hangs up his racquet.

Marcus Daniell (image supplied).

Marcus says he was 14 when he found himself having to choose between football or tennis.

“I was in the New Zealand squad for both tennis and football but could only pick one to carry on with. I chose tennis, and realised I had to commit myself as I’d given up a sport I loved to keep playing.”

Marcus moved away from his Wairarapa home to attend a boarding school in Auckland, allowing him to train more and connect with talented players which fed his desire to compete professionally.

Since then, he’s had many highlights in his career but says the most memorable moment was during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“It’s such a vivid memory, winning bronze in Tokyo, especially because we don’t often get to play for our country as tennis players and it means so much more to win with your country printed across your back. Another great moment was winning the ASB Classic as a young wildcard in 2010 in front of a raucous home crowd. That week was a wild ride!”

Having completed two degrees with Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Spanish in 2017, followed by a Graduate Diploma in Arts in Philosophy in 2019, Marcus says it was a necessary challenge.

“I’ve always liked having projects off the court, but when you combine rigorous training and competition with needing to travel across four continents for more than 10 months of the year, it’s hard to find the energy for other things! One of the main reasons I pursued my studies alongside sports was because I felt it balanced me out emotionally. Sport wreaks havoc on your emotions, so being able to make steady progress in my academic career on the side was a blessing.”

“The pro tennis tour is extremely fluid, with plans changing day-to-day. Often, I won’t know which country I’m going to next until a few days before I fly, which is why I choose Massey as they provided the flexibility I needed to be able to study while pursuing my tennis career.”

As Marcus’ career progressed and he was able to earn a living from sport, he says he began to delve into the deeper reasons behind committing much of his time and life to tennis.

“The more I thought about the luck and privilege I’ve had across my life with the career, opportunities and wonderful family I have, the more I felt the need to balance the scales in some way.”

In 2016, Marcus began to gradually increase the percentage of his winnings he’d pledge through the Giving What We Can organisation to help enrich the lives of others. Now in his final year of his tennis career, he has launched the Back With Impact campaign, where he’ll be donating half of his winnings across the year to high impact charities.

He says it feels like the most direct way he can transfer his resources to those who need them most.

“It just feels right. I also feel like athletes have both the honour and responsibility to use their platforms to promote good ideas and messages, and I can’t think of a better message to promote than let’s help those who need it in the most effective and impactful way we can.”

In 2020, Marcus established High Impact Athletes (HIA), an organisation that connects world-class athletes with world-class charities. His work within the organisation has seen Marcus awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award, joining recipients such as Nelson Mandela and Roger Federer for his efforts that transcend sport and reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe in his willingness to stand up for his beliefs.

Marcus says the work he does with HIA deeply aligns with his values.

“We work with the top charity research organisations in the world, who provide us with a list of highly recommended charities based on the most rigorous analysis available, and we try to condense that list down for our athletes. When an athlete chooses to give to one of those charities or support them with their platforms, they know they’ll be making a difference. That level of trust and transparency is paramount in the charity space, and I think that is why HIA has grown so quickly.”

Currently in Phoenix preparing for his next event, Marcus says his focus for the future is on his Back With Impact campaign.

“I’m asking supporters to pledge a tiny amount alongside me for each point I win this year and it’s been beautiful to see how many people have got behind it already, but I want to make this thing huge. Once I retire at the ASB Classic early next year, I want to focus all my energy on growing HIA into the most impactful sport non-profit in the world.”

Marcus says his advice for current students aspiring to pursue their passions and make positive impacts in the world is to be curious and always willing to challenge their own assumptions.

“Also, don’t be afraid to think big. We have a lot to offer the world and I don’t think we should let our location on the globe or our small size limit how many people, animals or climates we can affect.”

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