SUFFOLK - Pro tennis player, not paramedic, was what Rainey Cross had envisioned for her life.
But she traded in tennis courts for fire trucks because she started a family, bills needed to be paid and the reality of life got in the way.
Cross doesn't regret it though.
To her surprise, she found a career - a calling - that fit her just as well, if not better, than tennis. Nine years ago the 35-year-old Suffolk native joined the city's Department of Fire & Rescue.
"I never thought there would be a more perfect fit other than tennis. Tennis was my life. I went through an adjustment when I realized I needed a career. I liked what the fire department stood for. The tradition. The family."
Cross teaches future emergency responders how to treat patients.
"If you treat everyone like it's your grandmother, your family member, you're going to make that family feel comfortable."
It was this approach and her strong work ethic that earned her Paramedic of the Year recently. Cross is personable, dedicated and hard-working - almost to a fault, says her supervisor, Capt. Daniel Huffman.
"Sometimes I have to reel her in because she gets so focused on what she's doing. She's 100 percent willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done."
Cross graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy early because she was recruited on a full tennis scholarship to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. She played in small, nontelevised professional tournaments and trained with tennis greats Jennifer Capriati and Jim Courier. Cross also has been teaching tennis her whole life, and she's a volunteer coach for the Special Olympics.
When the training and traveling involved with tennis became too expensive, she decided to shift professional gears - but her path to Suffolk Fire-Rescue had its fits and starts. She initially considered becoming a cop. It didn't suit her personality though. Briefly, she also worked as a child-support enforcer before discovering it was not her thing either. "I'm an adrenaline junkie."
When she first started with Suffolk Fire-Rescue, Cross' interest was riding in a fire engine. Shequickly realized most of the calls were medical. Before long, those calls became more important to her, and she wanted to do more for patients. She became a paramedic in 2007.
Cross doesn't exactly hop from call to call nowadays. When her 12-year-old daughter, Maya, started having seizures in the middle of the night, she wanted to be home for the girl who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder. She also has a 10-year-old son, Noah, and a 12-year-old stepson, Josiah.
Nearly three years ago Cross became a training officer for the city's Emergency Medical Services. She makes sure more than 200 members of the department are up to date in their training, and she also teaches new recruits.
"She has been a godsend for this office," Huffman said. "She's very thorough. In my 30 years in this office, I can't think of anyone I've worked with who works as hard as she does."
Depending on what Cross' goals are, Huffman said, he could see her advancing within the department to become an officer.
"There's really no other profession like the fire department," Cross said. "It's a support system. You're thrown into situations where there's high risk, and because of that you develop this support system.
"It's like a family away from home. You have your family at home, and you have your family at work. We just look out for each other."
Cross also enjoys helping the people in the community where she was born and raised. "It's a very fulfilling job," she said. "You go home each day feeling like you made someone's life a little better or you've given something to your community."