Arja Family: The whole family is part of this racquet


Arja family

Parents: Tarek, 52 years old, and Eileen, 52. Children: Jillian, 23; Nicky, 21; and Ben, 19.

Years in western Colorado: 11.

They have been around Grand Junction tennis courts the past decade in any number of capacities.

Maybe it’s the kids — Jillian, Nicky and Ben — playing tennis for Grand Junction High School.

Maybe it’s the same sibling trio working as volunteers at one of the Grand Junction summer tennis tournaments.

Maybe it’s the mom, Eileen, volunteering at one of the same tournaments where her kids are working. Or she decides Grand Junction High tennis coach Carol Elliott has enough to do without arranging for snacks for her players, so tennis mom Eileen takes on that responsibility.

Maybe it’s the father, Tarek, playing in one of those summer tournaments on a doubles team with his son or one of his daughters. Or when one of those summer tournaments needs a sponsor, Tarek, a family doctor, helps get Community Hospital to become a sponsor.

“They” are the Arja family. And their love of tennis and commitment to playing the game and helping others enjoy the game got noticed by the Colorado Tennis Association, which made the Arjas the 2015 Lena and Carter Elliott Family of the year.

That’s Lena and Carter Elliott, as in the matriarch and patriarch of Grand Junction’s first family of tennis.

The Elliott family has been organizing tennis tournaments in Grand Junction nearly six decades now, with the annual Taco Bell Western Slope Open dating back to 1958 and being the biggest of the bunch. Those tournaments run smoothly because the Elliotts get great volunteer helpers, and Lena Elliott said the Arjas have been fantastic with their willingness to always help out and the quality of work they do.

“Whenever I need help with something, I can call them, and they’ll be there in five minutes,” Lena said.

Tarek and Eileen Arja played tennis recreationally when they were a young couple in Florida.

“That was something to do when he was in medical school, and we didn’t have any money,” Eileen said.

But when they arrived in Grand Junction 11 years ago, they weren’t playing tennis, and they didn’t nudge their kids toward the sport.

Instead, Jillian Arja, the eldest of the three children, decided on her own when she was a freshman at Grand Junction High School that she wanted to play tennis.

And that opened the door for the entire family to get involved.

What Jillian was doing looked like fun, so Nicky took up the sport the next year and teamed with Jillian in doubles on the Grand Junction girls junior varsity team.

Of course, Ben then wanted to play, too, and Mom and Dad decided it was time to start playing again, and maybe they should take lessons and get better at the game.

“We all started kind of learning together after Jillian got started,” Nicky said. “We played together as a family many nights under the lights at (Colorado) Mesa (University). … We still play when the family is together.”

Tennis became important enough to all of the Arjas that playing wasn’t enough. Volunteering was fun, too.

“I just kind of volunteered to help the Elliotts. I really got to know them well and wanted to help,” said Nicky, who recently graduated college and will begin teaching in Denver this summer. Before that, though, she will help Carol Elliott this spring, coaching the Grand Junction High junior varsity girls team.

Nicky said she was in charge of logistics at the Taco Bell tournament last summer, making sure everyone could make it to their scheduled matches, or she would reschedule so they could.

Nicky said she loves to help out in whatever way she can because she enjoys seeing all of the players and families she has gotten to know over the years.

Kathy Elliott said what her mother, Lena, said is true about the Arjas always making themselves available.

“We’ll always put them to work just because they’re always willing to help,” she said. “Great kids. Great parents.”

Eileen in particular, Kathy said, “just jumps in wherever you need her. She’s always calling, ‘You guys have this tournament coming up. What can I do to help?’”

The Arja kids also got involved in teaching youth tennis, helping Ron and Kathy Elliott with their summer program.

“They are amazing,” Kathy said. “They’re so great with young kids. It’s in their blood.”

All of the Arja children are out of high school, as Ben graduated last spring and is a freshman at Colorado State University.

When they get back home, though, they still get the tennis racquets out.

And Ben and Nicky will be around this summer to help with the summer leagues again.

Whatever the Arjas involvement is in tennis, “It’s a way for us to give back,” Tarek said, “because our kids enjoyed playing so much. … For all they got out of it, they’re happy to give back.”

Their giving draws thanks from the Elliotts and friends, but the Arjas never expected to be recognized as the family of the year by the Colorado Tennis Association.

“It was very unexpected,” Eileen said.

“When we got the award, we never even knew it existed,” Tarek added. “We were tickled. Tickled because the family was all included.”

They had to all be included. Jillian Arja may have been the first one in the family to get serious about tennis, but she wasn’t alone for long.

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