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Jun 02, 2014
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada
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June 2, 2014

At the end of play on last Sunday’s Little Aces session at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga, Ont., wheelchair tennis player Puisand Lai’s green team had narrowly defeated the orange team.  

Though Puisand is in a wheelchair and she was playing with able-bodied kids, there was nothing separating the 13-year-old from her teammates and opponents – which was the goal of Little Aces Mississauga chair Albert Fong when he integrated Pusiand into the program in April.   

Puisand first joined Fong’s Little Aces wheelchair-specific class last October, and he quickly saw she had a lot of potential. He broached the possibility of moving her into the regular Little Aces program and the transition has been seamless so far.

“It’s all about playing level,” Fong said. “It doesn’t matter if you are in a wheelchair or able-bodied, as long as the kids are closely-matched, they will have fun. So we always put kids at a similar level of play on the same court. The whole concept is that if the kids come here to play, they will have fun and they will come back. So if an able-bodied player and wheelchair player can play at the same level, then why not have them together on the same court.”

Originally putting Puisand in Little Aces because she wanted her daughter to be more active, Jenny Lai says she is pleased with how she has taken to tennis and is happy with her progress.  

“It’s going very well,” she said. “There are no other programs in town that does what Little Aces does here. All the kids are so involved and they are always playing and having fun. And the volunteers and the parents are so much more involved than in other programs and really passionate about it. It has a special feeling and it’s really good for all the kids.”

Prior to Puisand joining the Little Aces league, Fong tested her skill level opposite a couple of kids already in the program. Charlie Janthur’s two daughters, who have been involved in Little Aces for about two years, played with her and the result was a success with the kids all evenly-matched. 

Janthur says Puisand has been a great addition to the program.

“Initially, you could hear a couple of the kids say ‘wow, she’s good’ when they saw her play because they probably came in with other expectations and then were surprised to see she could hold her own,” Janthur said. “And that’s the kind of the thing the kids learn to understand, that it’s not that different. And that’s what I really appreciate with the value of what Albert is doing. First it’s giving her the opportunity but also it’s showing the other kids to not judge.”

Before the spring session began, Fong let all the families know a wheelchair player would be joining them, and everyone was very responsive.

“It really wasn’t an issue,” said Karen Debono, who has two sons in the program. “The kids didn’t bat an eye. Albert explained the rules, which is that she gets two bounces, and sometime she doesn’t even take two. They’ve been very accepting. And she wins points. So it’s not like they figure they have to change their game to play with her. They are just playing tennis, and she’s doing great.”

Also having played sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball, racing, and sailing, Lai says that Pusiand’s experiences in Little Aces are helping her become more sure of herself.

“Every time she does more, her confidence just continues to build,” Lai said. “At one point she was in a stage of low self-esteem, but now she’s very confident and she feels that she’s like any able-bodied kid. I think she probably now understands that there are many opportunities that are open to her and now she realizes that she can do as much or even more than able-bodied kids.”

With Puisand flourishing, Fong hopes to be able to integrate another wheelchair tennis player into the Little Aces program soon.

“I think this integration demonstrates that tennis is a sport limited not by physical limitations, but by individual dedication and hard work,” he said.

Little Aces is a Tennis Canada initiative, in conjunction with the provincial associations, aimed at introducing young kids to tennis in a fun, affordable and accessible way. There are currently eight Little Aces communities across Canada.