Ferran Calvo’s story of perseverance is not one that is marked by a single occurrence or moment in time, but one that is ongoing. As he has overcome challenges in his academic and athletic careers as well as his personal life, perseverance is woven into his every day experience as a student, an athlete, a teammate and a son.
A native of Valencia, Spain, Calvo first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of five. By 13, he had become a Spanish national champion, and at 15, he was garnering the attention of college coaches. But Calvo’s rise to prominence as a tennis player came without a distinct advantage; he was born with a hearing impairment. Unable to hear the sound of the ball coming off his opponent’s racquet to locate the shot, Calvo developed his game around his quick feet and the stamina to outlast the other player.
Although his hearing impairment did not hinder his tennis, it presented a challenge when it came time to think about college. Crossing the Atlantic to attend an American university would require him to learn English. Though his mother, Concha, spoke English and tried to teach Calvo in his childhood, he did not quite grasp the language well enough to qualify for Division I admission.
Calvo enrolled at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, in hopes of improving his English. He set a goal of learning five new words every day and listened to music with English lyrics as a means of reaching it, but learning a new language was made even more difficult by his hearing impairment.
“I think English is hard even if I didn’t have problems [hearing],” said Calvo. “But with the problem, I don’t even speak good Spanish, so English was even harder.
“Sometimes, it wasn’t that I didn’t understand what [people] were saying, but I couldn’t hear. When they think you can’t understand, they stop talking to you.”
During his career at Tyler, Calvo pressed on. He quickly rose in the rankings to become the No. 1 player in the NJCAA. Calvo won national championships in singles and doubles and recorded a national runner-up finish with his team in 2017. Calvo also earned ITA All-America status in singles and doubles in both of his seasons at Tyler.
Then life handed Calvo another challenge. While he was excelling in tennis and learning English, his mother was battling cancer. Concha passed away suddenly despite doctors’ reassurances that she was making progress.
Faced with the decision of returning to Spain to be with his family or remaining in the United States to play tennis and finish school, Calvo remembered the promise he made to Concha that he would learn English and chose to stay in the US.
“It was hard but it’s easier when I know that my mom wanted to me to have a degree and learn English. The only thing I could do is do what my mom wanted me to do.”
Calvo came to OU to pursue that dream once he had finished his tenure at Tyler. Upon his arrival in Norman in the fall of 2017, he wasted no time in making his presence known. Calvo won 17 straight matches to open his Oklahoma career. That stretch included titles at the first two tournaments he played in and a miraculous run at the ITA All-American Championships.
There, Calvo won eight straight matches to advance through the pre-qualifying and qualifying draws to the main draw’s round of 16. Calvo went on to earn a bid to the Oracle/ITA National Fall Championships and his tremendous success during the fall season culminated in a ranking of No. 17 in the ITA singles release.
In the spring, Calvo became a fixture in OU’s dual match lineup and punched his ticket to the NCAA singles championships. He finished his junior campaign with a 31-10 record in singles, tying him for fifth for wins in a season in the OU record books.
"It was hard but it’s easier when I know that my mom wanted to me to have a degree and learn English. The only thing I could do is do what my mom wanted me to do."
-- Ferran Calvo
The spring of 2019 brought a new kind of victory for Calvo when OU was able to provide him with new hearing aids.
“One of the best things that could happen to me was to have a good hearing aid,” said Calvo. “I’m very thankful because my life has changed. I could hear things I didn’t know were sounds in the moment. My English improved, too, because I can hear everything better.”
“The last month or two has been just a different,” said OU head coach Nick Crowell. “It’s almost like he’s seeing things differently because he can hear everything. It’s almost like you could see a sparkle in his eye.”
Since receiving his new hearing aids, Calvo has also excelled in the classroom. The senior, who will soon become the first member of his family to earn a degree, received the Athletics Council Achievement Award at OU’s Scholar-Athlete breakfast. The award honors graduating student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics.
There have been times he could not hear, times he could not communicate and a time he suffered great loss. Through it all, Calvo has mastered perseverance. Life can throw at him what it may, but Ferran Calvo will find a way.
“He’s had a lot of tough times. Being able to persevere on a day-to-day basis and push through the tough times – I’m just really proud of the way he handles it,” said Crowell.
“I think every day about my mom,” Calvo said. “I try always to accomplish what she wanted me to do. I never imagined I was going to study in a university, even in Spain, so coming here to a university like OU, I accomplished things I didn’t imagine I was going to. There’s nothing impossible in this world.”
Calvo and the Sooners await their NCAA destination with selection taking place Monday, April 29. The first two rounds of the tournament will be played May 3-5 at campus sites.