Richard Spurling ’97 is helping to change the lives of children with autism. In 2008 he and his wife, autism researcher Dr. Shafali Jeste, founded ACEing Autism, a nonprofit organization that uses tennis as a fun means to enhance health and fitness, improve hand-eye coordination, and encourage motor development in children with autism.
Spurling, who currently serves as president of ACEing Autism’s board of directors, moved from Antwerp, Belgium to the United States to attend FAU. He was on the tennis team from 1992 to 1996 and graduated in 1997 with a B.S. in international business.
“At FAU I received a comprehensive foundation in business which has enabled me to pursue an entrepreneurial career,” he said. “I came to the U.S. to get an education and tennis was the vehicle for me to come here. I was interested in finding a university that had a strong academic reputation and a strong athletic program where I could continue to play tennis competitively … and coming from a rainy Belgian city, South Florida seemed perfect!”
After graduating from FAU, Spurling had a short career in finance, but decided to switch gears and follow his passion for tennis. He has worked in the industry for 15 years, teaching and managing various high-profile tennis programs in Florida and Massachusetts.
Spurling and Jeste launched the first ACEing Autism program, which served 15 children, at The Longfellow Club in Wayland, Mass. in 2008. The following year a second location was added and Spurling realized that he could greatly enhance the lives of children with autism – and their families – through tennis. He made a commitment to dedicate his career to the development and expansion of ACEing Autism and the program quickly grew from there.
Today ACEing Autism is offered at nearly 40 sites nationwide including four in Florida, as well as the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York. The program, which is now based in Los Angeles, has introduced more than 750 children with autism to tennis.
“I feel extremely fortunate that I can introduce and use tennis as an intervention with so many children with autism,” said Spurling. “It is amazing to see children with autism make gains and have fun playing tennis!”
In 2013 Spurling met Whitney Kraft ’82, director of the National Tennis Center. Kraft was an All-American tennis player during his time at FAU and was inducted into the FAU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006. Since meeting, Spurling and Kraft have worked together to bring a free ACEing Autism clinic to Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open Grand Slam tournament, serving more than 50 children with autism at the site. The clinic was so successful that Kraft is now offering a weekly ACEing Autism program at the National Tennis Center, with staff and volunteers running six-week sessions to serve the autism community.
“We’re excited to be partnering with Richard and ACEing Autism for this important programming at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center,” said Kraft. “It serves the community by providing positive recreational activities coupled with volunteer opportunities for those interested. As an added bonus, Richard and I have enjoyed sharing our fond memories of our times spent and friends made while attending Florida Atlantic. Both of us are proud to be Owls.”
In 2013 Spurling was honored with the U.S. Professional Tennis Registry’s Humanitarian of Year Award for his work building the ACEing Autism program. In 2014 ACEing Autism received the U.S. Tennis Association’s Community Service Award.
When asked about his time at FAU, Spurling said he is grateful for the education he received, as well as the scholarship assistance, which covered half of his tuition. Combined with a part-time job on the weekends, he was able to graduate debt free. Spurling also values the friends he made at his alma mater.
“Since graduating from FAU nearly 20 years ago, I am proud of the fact that some of my best friendships were formed during my time at FAU,” he said. “FAU was the beginning of my life in the U.S. Everything started for me there.”
Spurling and the ACEing Autism team intend to grow the program to 75-100 sites throughout the U.S. by 2018, allowing them serve 1,000 children annually. For more information on ACEing Autism, visithttps://aceingautism.org/.
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