“The wheelchair events that we hold are so inspirational,” said WSTC tennis director Bob Ingersole. “Just watch what these people have overcome and talk to them, they have to be admired for what they face every day.”
Naotaka Kinoshita, a WSTC member, junior at Stuyvesant High School and member of Boy Scout Troop 422, dedicated much of the winter and spring towards planning this event.
“Not many able-bodied people can say they experienced the challenges of using a wheelchair, and based on that small amount, even fewer can say that they've attempted to play tennis in a wheelchair,” he said.
Forest Hills Gardens resident James Frangos, who served as WSTC President from 1990 to 1992, experienced a stroke in 2000 and now uses a wheelchair. Last week, his entire family came to support him on the court.
“It has been fantastic for my dad’s health and happiness,” said daughter Alexandra Frangos. “There was a wheelchair exhibition at the WSTC in summer 2001, and my mom encouraged my dad to go, which was what helped get this event started.”
William Lehr of Stony Brook has been in a wheelchair since childhood and grew up around wheelchair sports, including basketball and racing.
“These events integrate people who are on their feet with wheelchair tennis players on the same court,” he said. “It is very difficult in the beginning to learn how to hold your racquet, push your wheelchair, and watch the ball, but once you practice, then the rest of the game can be executed pretty smoothly.
“In the end, we are all talking about tennis and not the wheelchair,” Lehr added.
Loaner wheelchairs were provided by WSF to allow club members and guests to experience the unique challenges of wheelchair athletes.
“I knew it would be tough, but I wasn't ready for just how tough,” said Sarah Mannion. “I always had great respect for the players, but after today even more so. Their determination and skills were nothing short of fantastic.”
Experienced wheelchair players taught key skills for moving around to access the ball.
“I was immensely impressed by their humor and courage in the face of these challenges,” said Olga Polunina, a club member participating in the event for the first time. “I will definitely be watching wheelchair tennis events with a new level of appreciation.”
WSF promotes and educates the public about the physical and psychological benefits of adaptive sports by offering competitive opportunities at various levels.
“Generating awareness is the first step, since the government isn’t always doing enough to help,” said WSF tennis coach Donna Bernstein. “Many are veterans who defended us and they’re struggling now. People in wheelchairs need to have experiences and not just sit home.”