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A versatile polo player, Cristina Fernandez of Aiken plays the game with the energy and commitment to make her a strong competitor in this male-dominated sport.
Photo by Andrew Haworth
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Scrimmaging with her all-women’s team before a coed tournament in Aiken, Fernandez positions herself for her next shot.
Photo by Andrew Haworth
HOME BASE: Aiken, where her mother, Aiken Electric Cooperative member Theresa King, owns Ligara Farm
CURRENT JOB: Travels the country as club marketing coordinator for the Palm Beach, Florida-based U.S. Polo Association
GROUNDBREAKING MOMENT: One of five women among USPA’s 34 inaugural members of Team USPA, for rising polo stars
OFF THE FIELD: Enjoys playing guitar and performing as a singer-songwriter at open-mic nights; does yoga and eats vegan
Galloping across a sun-dappled Aiken field, mallet in hand, in an afternoon polo scrimmage, Cristina Fernandez is in her element.
Maybe she was born to play this game—daughter of an Argentine polo professional dad and an equestrian mom who took up polo as an adult. Fernandez absorbed polo culture and riding skills from both, emerging as a standout in interscholastic polo competition at her all-girls high school. Recruited to the University of Virginia, she captained her women’s team to a national championship in 2009, her senior year, scoring the game-winning goal.
“I’ve taken it for granted that women can play polo,” Fernandez says of the coed-but-male-dominated sport. “It never occurred to me that we couldn’t.”
Fernandez is one of just 10 women among the 50 current members of Team USPA, the U.S. Polo Association’s selective program to mentor and advance up-and-coming players. That granted her the rare chance to play in a Palm Beach tournament alongside highly rated male professionals and sent her to India to compete with and coach young Indian women.
In competition, Fernandez has the flexibility to excel in both offensive and defensive positions, but she loves to captain a team—like a quarterback drawing the best out of his squad, she says. Aiken teams have snagged her to fill last-minute openings; she’s the young talent who surprises the opposition.
“Having been in so many different situations throughout my career, you can put me in any situation, and I’ll play a different role,” she says.
Traveling the country’s seasonal polo circuit to market USPA clubs means dividing her time between an office job and time on the field, while pursuing her polo dreams.
“I’m meeting a lot of very successful, high-goal players and watching the best polo in the country,” Fernandez says. “It’s still really helping me, and it’s really fun.”