Supplies for a game of tennis: a ball, a racket, a court.
The nearly dozen athletes at the Rock Hill Tennis Center on Tuesday added an extra element. They played in wheelchairs.
The Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation and The First Clinics held a free training for anyone with a physical or mobility challenge, said Paul Walker, a U.S. Tennis Association professional who coaches the U.S. women’s national wheelchair tennis team.
The clinic is for “therapists who may come into contact with folks with disabilities who want to put them onto a path of recreational, competitive and adaptive sports and for the tennis professionals who are looking to say ‘OK, we may have some folks come to us in our courts that have some sort of physical disability,’” Walker said.
Tuesday’s clinic participants learned from the pros and trained alongside area physical, recreational and occupational therapists.
“This was a once-in-a-life opportunity to come out and interact with the wheelchair players, learn about how they play tennis and how to train with a wheelchair tennis player,” said Charlotte coach Juliana Marques, a former Winthrop University tennis player.
Marques has been a tennis coach for years, but she said playing in a wheelchair is more challenging.
“You have to roll the wheel while holding the tennis racket. ... That was quite tricky for me,” she said. “You just go full-blown circles while at high speeds.”
Wheelchair tennis is much like the conventional sport, with a few exceptions, including that the ball can bounce twice within the court boundaries before a player attempts to send it back over the net. The game can be played on a regulation court, with no modification to the racket size or balls, according to the International Tennis Federation.
Conner Stroud, 16, drove to Rock Hill from Rutherfordton, N.C., so he could train with Walker.
“He’s a really good coach, and he can provide you with a lot of tips and advice for the game,” Stroud said. “I started playing wheelchair tennis because of the OPAF (Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation). ... I wanted to come back and just have fun.”
Wheelchair tennis became a recognized sport in 1976 after Brad Parks, a skier who was paralyzed in an accident, helped develop the game with a recreational therapist, according to the International Tennis Federation.
The sport became part of the Paralympics Games in Seoul in 1988. The sport’s best athletes compete in the same cities and venues as Olympic athletes.
In the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 100 Paralympic athletes from 29 countries will compete in wheelchair tennis.
Tracy Kimball: 803-329-4072