Because of their frequent interactions and time spent together, coaches often play an outsized role in the lives of student-athletes. For Malini Wijesinghe ’19, her tennis coaches — father-son duo Matt and Steve Tyler — have done that.
But her work with volunteer assistant coach Steve Tyler goes beyond the tennis court. Accompanying him on weekly clean-up trips in downtown Peoria and near campus gave Wijesinghe the idea for the Bradley Clean Up Crew. The crew has drawn as many as 50 people on Fridays to spruce up campus and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“He was the driving force behind my passion for picking up Peoria,” she said. “I think a lot of people at Bradley don’t get out into Peoria enough or feel like this is their home; or their temporary home, at least. You feel good about yourself when you’re helping.”
Another of Wijesinghe’s activities is weekly tennis outings, weather permitting, with the latchkey students at Whittier Primary School near campus.
“That is what brings me the most fulfillment, just being out there and they’re running around and having so much fun,” she said of this work, which is aided by a friend.
Her work with the Clean Up Crew and her academic achievements as a triple major (biochemistry, Spanish and philosophy) earned the Minnesota native a Student Laureate distinction from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Her Bradley honors include a 3.98 GPA, Dean’s list, Student Athlete Advisory Committee, the Carl Grose Service Award and two-time tennis Most Valuable Player.
Wijesinghe was one of 10 recipients nationally of the Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship and Leadership Award from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, and she is three-time Missouri Valley Conference first-team Scholar-Athlete.
“I love to be doing a lot of things at once,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to be driven my whole life. I’ve always wanted to achieve. I was lucky to be born with motivation and I have a lot of interests. I think it’s in my DNA.”
Underpinning all her activities and accomplishments is her life as a Division I college athlete. It’s a regimen of 6 a.m. workouts, two-hour practices, meetings, special events and travel before any matches are even played. A four-year player for Bradley, Wijesinghe saw success at several singles spots and in doubles, ranking among the school’s leaders for career wins, sharing team marks for singles wins in a season (2015–16 and 2016–17) and matching freshman totals for overall and conference victories.
“Tennis is a lot of time and a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s more of a commitment than people think about, more than I even knew coming in. Someone can have a great day, play amazing and win and next to you someone can be doing terribly. You have to lift each other up, see the good in each other.”
— Bob Grimson '81