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VanOpen's Carlota Lee continues to serve tennis community and beyond

She put West Van on the map as a world-class destination for pro tennis. She continues to build on that legacy in sport while advocating for Parkinson's disease, after her diagnosis in 2019

Thanks to her community-minded approach, she set the court for West Vancouver to be a world-class destination for professional tennis.

Through her program of setting up athletes with rooms in nearby homes, Odlum Brown VanOpen chair Carlota Lee made the tourney – held at Hollyburn Country Club – an accessible destination to players who might otherwise spend their earnings on accommodation. Not just anyone could convince so many friends to open their doors like that, no matter how good their guest’s backhand is.

You might think that a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2019 might have slowed her down, but it expanded the range of communities she contributes to. Right away, she started advocating for people suffering from the condition. Lee joined PD Avengers, a group working to change how the disease is seen and treated.

She also helped raise $425,000 for research at UBC through the Porridge for Parkinson’s breakfast fundraiser.

And in June, Lee received an honorary doctor of letters from Capilano University, in part for her “pivotal role” as co-chair of the capital campaign to raise $5.5 million for the school’s Centre for Childhood Studies.

Why is creating community so important to her?

“It’s ingrained in me,” Lee said, explaining that she has no plans of leaving her role as VanOpen chair. “[I do it] because I have to. It’s my baby.”

While she continues to seek solutions for her physical symptoms, she says her mind is all there. Lee can’t multitask like she used to, but she still likes being involved and accomplishments give her pride.

After winning ATP Challenger Tour Tournament of the Year back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, Lee and her team are shooting to win again in 2022.

“The players’ lounge is fantastic,” she said. Lee added that they’ve also put an electronic line-calling system in place, which is becoming the standard in pro tennis.

This year’s US$159,000 event – running Aug. 13 to 21 – will draw eyes with its impressive roster. Six top-100 globally ranked players will compete, including Vernon, B.C.-born Vasek Pospisil.

Lee said she’s rooting for Vancouver-based star Rebecca Marino, who bested Venus Williams at the WTA Citi Open in Washington, DC last week.

Leaving a legacy of tennis programming in B.C.

Lee noted the rich pool of young tennis talent in B.C., and wants to be a part of expanding access to affordable training facilities.

“All the kids always go back east to train,” she said. “We have so many kids from the West Coast, but they have nothing here.”

To make her vision a reality, Lee has partnered with the City of Burnaby and Tennis BC to build the Pacific Tennis Centre, which will function as Tennis Canada’s flagship facility in the west.

She also wants to see permanent infrastructure built for international tennis competition. Currently, World Cup of Tennis events like the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers at the Pacific Coliseum are hosted with tear-down facilities.

“For my legacy, I’m trying to leave a stadium that is big enough for events that require a 5,000-person stadium. Hopefully we’ll put one in with UBC.”

While her mark continues to grow, her career of community building is already a smash.