The 21-year-old Brasov, Romania native and political science student at Concordia came to Canada with her family when she was three. She began playing tennis at the age of seven, when her parents signed her up for lessons at Carrefour Multisports.
“Over time, I enjoyed it so much that I was no longer playing because my parents wanted me to, but because I wanted to,” she said.
These early learning step proved to be rewarding; Cojocaru later went on to win many notable tournaments in Canada and in Europe. She won the Quebec Championship in singles and in doubles five times between the ages of 10 and 14, where she ranked number one on the Quebec tennis team. Cojocaru also reached ninth place in a tournament in France, which included players from 50 countries.
Cojocaru’s proudest moment of her tennis career came when she won the under-12 Quebec Championship.
“A Nike watch was one of the prizes for the winner,” she said. “I wanted one just like it. During the final, my all-time rival had won the first set and was leading 5-2 in the second. All I could think about [then] was that watch and how it was slipping away. I took a moment to gather all the strength I had in me and turned the match around. I ended up winning the match in three sets. I didn’t lose hope.”
Cojocaru’s life and tennis career has not always been fun. When she was 12, she went for to see the doctor for an arm injury. When she told him she was also suffering from occasional back pain, he took X-rays. That’s when the doctor told Cojocaru her tennis career was over.
“[The doctor] explained to me that I had a spondylolisthesis, a forward dislocation of one vertebra over the one beneath it, producing pressure on spinal nerves,” she said. “[The] condition is relatively serious insofar as the dislocation can worsen over time and can ultimately lead to paralysis.”
However, she decided to continue playing and admits she didn’t take the doctor’s orders, or any other specialist she saw, to stop playing seriously.
“My life was revolving around tennis and I didn’t think anything could stop it,” she said. “I felt a very strong and steady back pain [during a tournament in France]. Despite knowing that I had to take a break, I decided to compete in the [under-14] Quebec Championship, which I was supposed to win, as I was the number one seed. When I lost the championship, I decided [I had to stop].”
Cojocaru spent a year and a half rehabilitating her back. She said losing the under-14 championships was the hardest moment of her career.
“That was the moment when I reached the conclusion that my back no longer allowed me to play,” she said. “I remember crying in the locker room forever.”
She made a comeback at 15-years-old to try to regain her number one ranking in Quebec. She finished third in Quebec before quitting tennis for good at 17.
If there is one thing Cojocaru would have changed during her career, she says it would have been to be less hard on herself.
“I didn’t want to acknowledge that my condition was something that was slowing me down,” she said. “Because of the pressure that I put on myself, I was never satisfied when I played. If I could go back, I’d tell myself to take it easy, and enjoy the opportunity that I had to just play the sport that I love.”