Yes folks ? it’s that time of the year again. The trees are cut, the lights are lit and people anxiously await that special day ? Dec. 17.

Since 1954, aside from gearing up for the holidays, professional athletes secretly hope that Santa delivers them an early present and rewards them for a job well done.

It has been a challenge for Sports Illustrated magazine to decide who has earned the grand present ? the Sportsman of the Year award.

I mean, how does one decide on one athlete when there is so much talent to choose from?

I couldn’t help but take a look at the list of front-runners this year and, despite excellent deeds all around, one name appealed to me most.

Nevermind that she was the only female on the list ? she is also a quiet dignity that has become an icon for comeback kids.

I know it seems like celebrities are always drumming up their stories of triumph against the odds just to soak up even more of the spotlight, but the Women’s Tennis Association No. 1 tennis player, Jennifer Capriati, is a refreshing change from the typical delinquent resurrect.

Not only has she managed one of the most impressive returns to professional tennis, she also exudes the ideals of sportsmanship that the Sportsman of the Year award stands for.

Faced with constant drilling from reporters for comments on her troubled past, Capriati carries herself with pride and steers the talk to what is important to her now ? the present. And she has a lot to be proud of.

Not only is she currently at the top of women’s tennis, but she has captured two Grand Slam titles ? the Australian and French Opens ? and she has also reached the semi-finals of the other two Grand Slam Events.

In mid-October, Capriati also ousted Martina Hingis to be ranked the world’s No. 1 player by WTA.

Aside from the titles and the rankings, this 25-year old came away from the 2001 season with something more ? lessons learned and never to be forgotten.

Winning isn’t everything, but excuses are for losers ? especially for athletes. Capriati understands that.

She knows that focusing on the past and dwelling on mistakes is as deadly in life as it is in the game of tennis. So unlike other celebrities, Capriati isn’t focused on her fame and isn’t interested in selling her life story.

Instead, she’s just out on the courts, playing tennis, with her friends and family in support, and her eyes firmly fixed on the future.

It is unfortunate that she and other celebrities were sent off the rails and admiration turned to pity. But, what really matters is how you pick yourself up. A comeback is a sign of strength and determination, not a sign of defeat.

The precocious talent from the 1992 Olympics is longer around. It is apparent that Capriati has emerged to become a confident athlete and a bona fide celebrity.

“Dreams do come true,” she said in Sports Illustrated. “If you believe in yourself.”

Capriati’s positive attitude, determination and struggle is a great model for what Americans have triumphed towards the end of 2001 and what we are about to head into in the near future.

Despite home run records being broken by San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds and the Stanley Cup won by Colorado Avalanche’s Ray Bourque, Capriati’s feat this year is an all-around winner and she is a true Sportsman of 2001.

Wu can be reached at

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