Tempest Bowden started at the bottom. Literally. “I grew up in West Philly, in a neighborhood called ‘The Bottom.’ Most people don’t know it was called ‘The Bottom’ because of where it was located in relation to a river, but a lot of people call it ‘The Bottom’ because it was the hood - it was the ghetto. It was a hard life. As a kid, you are kind of blind to it and don’t see it, but I grew up in that.” Tempest and her younger sister, Quineta, grew up poor and often didn’t have lights or gas or food.
By the age of 12, Tempest had entered a very rebellious stage. She shares, “I was not really good with adult figures because I was used to my mom making empty promises and I didn’t trust anybody. It was rough.” Enter Julie Williams, [now former] Executive Director of SquashSmarts - a nonprofit, after-school program that supports kids on the court and in the classroom. Williams introduced the sport of squash to Tempest in her gym class. “Squash was one thing that helped me to gain some sort of balance. A place where I could go and relieve stress because I didn't understand my life. Sometimes being hungry was frustrating and going to squash practice to get that frustration out and get a snack at the same time was really good.” Squash had become her outlet.
Tempest spent almost every day in the program for six years. In the fall of 2009, she headed to Mount Holyoke College, where she continued to play squash at the NCAA Division-III level. After a series of tragedies, Tempest left Mount Holyoke and returned home. She didn’t know what she should do next, until she discovered City Year. “It was the most amazing experience I ever had because that’s when I knew I wanted to work with kids. Immediately, I knew I needed to work with kids, especially inner-city kids.”
On a return visit to SquashSmarts in 2015, and six years after leaving as a student at the organization, Tempest was offered a role as a Coach Across America coach. To begin her service as a Coach Across America coach, she attended the Up2Us Sports National Coach Training Institute in Boston. There, coaches are taught how to coach sports and teach life skills, in what is called sports-based youth development (SBYD). They are trained how to work specifically with children who come from disadvantaged communities and who have, or are, experiencing high levels of stress and trauma in their lives - something that hit close to home for Tempest.
“My favorite part of the training is the day we talked about the brain, the impact of stress and how sport can be that perfect outlet for kids to become their better selves,” she shared. She knows squash has helped her become her better self. “The more I played squash and pushed myself I knew I was not going to be done with squash. I knew I was going to be doing it for my life. Honestly, it’s the most consistent thing in my life.”
Tempest left the training with a strong desire to keep working hard and improving as a coach. “I know squash very well and the training I got with Up2Us Sports fine tuned everything that I needed to be the coach I am today. Learning how to be a trauma-sensitive coach, learning about the High Impact Attributes, things like that really helped me to connect with my kids on a greater level.”
On June 15, 2016, Up2Us Sports honored Tempest as the Coach of the Year at their annual Gala in New York City. On July 31, 2016, Tempest will finish her one-year term as a Coach Across America coach, but her time with SquashSmarts will not end. She will continue as a full-time employee, serving as the Director of Squash and Fitness for their middle school program.
“2016 has been an amazing year for me. It really opened my eyes to my potential. People used to tell me all the time, ‘Tempest, you have so much potential!’ and I didn't believe them. I would just play [squash] and that was my thing. Now I can see it and I feel it. It feels really good to have that feeling, to know that you are doing something positive. It really pushes you to be your best self.”
It certainly sounds like Tempest has made her way from “The Bottom” to the top.