Several months ago, I had a chance to meet Joel Dembe, Canada’s top-ranked men’s wheelchair player. I also had the opportunity to try wheelchair tennis for myself. Like Joel, I’d love to help more Canadians of all ages and abilities discover the fun of tennis. It’s truly a game for just about everyone… and a game for life.
About Wheelchair Tennis:
Wheelchair tennis was founded in 1976 when Brad Parks of California, hit a tennis ball from a wheelchair, first drawing attention to a sport that now boasts over 170 events taking place the world over. Wheelchair tennis was played at the Paralympics for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, and is today practiced in more than 100 countries.
Who can play:
To compete, players typically have substantial or permanent loss of function in one or both legs. The game follows able-bodied rules with the exception that the ball is allowed to bounce twice. Whether enjoyed recreationally or competitively, wheelchair tennis enables participants to play with those who are able bodied as well as others in wheelchairs.
To begin playing, a sports wheelchair isn’t essential, but strapping oneself into the chair (as I did when I tried it) is recommended. Straps can be used around the ankles, knees, hips and the waist to lend stability and enhance balance. I remember when I gave it a try, asking Joel to have an ambulance on stand-by!
As with able bodied tennis, wheelchair tennis is ideal for kids, teens, adults and older adults with an interest in the game, looking to enhance their fitness, with a love of sport, or looking to challenge themselves with something new.
How to get involved:
To begin playing recreationally, call a friend, pick up a racquet, and head to your community courts to try hitting some balls or to rally (I don’t think I hit a single ball in my first attempt at wheelchair tennis… but I had a ton of fun trying!).
Some courts are more accessible than others and advocating for equal access by all those with an interest in participating is vital. Many communities also offer tennis instruction and playing time in school and community gyms, recreation centres, and on basketball courts. These facilities are tremendously helpful in giving Canadians year-round access to the game, especially in communities where no indoor courts exist or where winter play is prohibitively expensive.