The biggest challenge sophomore Mora Ouneklap faces is time management, she says.
On top of spending hours studying for a full schedule of advanced placement classes, the 16-year-old divides her time between the golf course, a music room and her parents’ restaurant, on Fourth Street.
“It’s very busy,” Ouneklap smiles, taking occasional “breaks” to hand out menus to customers.
Last year, Ouneklap was the first girl on the San Rafael High School golf team when the Bulldogs won the Marin County Athletic League championships with a team score of 398. At first, Ouneklap was nervous about being the only female.
“The guys were so supportive,” she says. “I used to tease them that I was their lucky charm, because the only games I missed, we didn’t win.”
Unlike many female golfers, Ouneklap tees off with the boys. “If you’re a girl you’re allowed to tee off closer up, but I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “It’s such a self-esteem booster when you’re up there with the guys.”
Ouneklap began golfing with her father, Ben, for some bonding time. There, she learned that “golf can beat you up,” she laughs. “So many people think of mini-golf or Wii when think of golf, but it’s not like that at all.”
Although she admits getting frustrated when she doesn’t always play a great game, she says “if you hit a perfect game every time, you’ll never learn how to hit from those tough spots.”
Athletic talents aside, Ouneklap is also a skilled musician, well-versed in the violin and the viola. She began violin lessons in sixth grade, so she could play her mother’s favorite song, “You Fill Up My Senses,” by John Denver.
Although she’s played violin for five years, she prefers the viola for its lack “screechiness” she says. Now, she plays the instrument in the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra.
When she’s not practicing her golf swing or playing the viola, she’s helping out her parents at their restaurant and caring for her autistic brother, Vee-Lian, whom she refers to as the glee of the family.
“He has so much love and really binds us together,” she says of her brother. Vee-Lian’s future didn’t look bright when he was younger. He didn’t start talking until years after he was born. But now, with support from family and friends, he can talk, read, write and do math, “although he doesn’t like to,” Ouneklap says.
Witnessing her brother’s journey inspired Ouneklap to want to study medicine in college, and possibly work with children in her parents’ home country of Laos.
And she’s on her way there with the news of her acceptance in the University of California, Davis’s Young Scholars program. Starting this summer, Ouneklap will join 39 other high-achieving students at UC Davis to explore the world of original scientific research.
Until this summer, she will be on the golf course hoping to improve her swing. “My friend and former teammate Alex Franklin told me that I have to be my own lucky charm,” she says. “So I’m going to do that.”