Wheelchair tennis: Easy to play, fun to learn, and a great way to spend time with friends – or even compete professionally
The benefits of wheelchair tennis extend far beyond its status as an official competitive sport. "It's more than tennis for people in wheelchairs; it gives them their lives back," says Tennis Hall of Famer Brad Parks, who founded the game after a 1977 skiing accident at age 18.
"The ability to play and to have relationships with able-bodied friends is really important." Tennis is easy and relatively inexpensive; you can just call up a friend, family member, or your boyfriend or girlfriend on a Saturday morning and say, 'let's go hit the courts.'"
"It helps a lot with rehab," he says. "It's been amazing for me, so I like to encourage it as much as possible. There are a lot of things wheelchair users can do today that they couldn't when I was first injured: skiing and waterskiing, for instance. But tennis is really inexpensive and easy to play.
"Tell your patients about it, set up a little program and a court with a couple of rackets as part of gym time; it doesn't need to be an official tennis court to get started. I would also encourage people to try it in an outpatient scenario, after they've finished their treatment at the rehabilitation facility."
Parks suggests that therapists and case workers helping clients who may be interested in wheelchair tennis visit www.itftennis.com/wheelchair or www.usta.com/Play-Tennis/Wheelchair-Tennis/Wheelchair to learn more about the sport's history and how it is played. Wheelchair tennis championship matches are played all across the country and the world, catch one near you.
Wheelchair tennis has also had a profound impact on many who do not use wheelchairs. "I've known a lot of burnt-out tennis coaches who had lost their passion for the game and were thinking of quitting," says Parks. "Then they started coaching wheelchair tennis players, and they were so inspired by their athletes' enthusiasm that it rekindled their original love and energy for tennis. Your participation affects more than just you."
Parks added: "There are so many people I've met over the years who had very serious injuries and conditions that even I didn't think they could even play wheelchair tennis. I've been amazed and proven wrong so many times – I've watched them play and travel the world, and I've seen what it means to them, to be a part of something really special," he says. "And you don't have to compete at high levels to enjoy it; just to have a sport where you can easily call up a buddy and play for a while – that's what makes it great."
Brad Parks now works in real estate in San Clemente, California, where he lives with his wife, Wendy, and their two daughters Sarah and Maiah.