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Adaptive Tennis

Tennis is a life changer for Special Olympics gold medalist Doring

October 18, 2013 12:26 PM
In 2011, Jonathan Doring won a gold medal in men's singles for Team USA at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece.
Doring plays USTA League tennis and Adult Tournaments, and he is a certified USTA Chair Official.

By Joyce Dreslin, special to USTA.com

Once upon a time there was a 5-year-old boy who spent his time alone in his room, never speaking or responding to others, obsessively lining up his toys in perfectly straight lines. He would not look anyone in the eye and would react inappropriately to the slightest physical touch.

This was Jonathan Doring, who was born with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes a wide range of mental impairment and is the most common known cause of autism.

When he was 8, his parents involved him in Special Olympics, where he played whatever sport was in season. He has loved them all – tennis, softball, speed skating, golf and swimming – for 25 years.

His most favorite sport, however, is tennis, which in the higher divisions is one of the most challenging sports in Special Olympics. In addition to physical strength, tennis requires developing a strategy, often revising that strategy mid-match, and stamina to get through to the end. To compete and improve in singles takes hard work, and Doring spends three days a week on the courts and another three in the gym.

The lessons he has learned from tennis have changed his entire life. Doring now has the desire to learn and to persevere, he sets realistic goals for himself, and he knows that if he works hard and is determined enough, he will eventually succeed at tennis and life.

Doring graduated from high school with an academic diploma and completed an associate’s degree in computer science, perservering through eight years to earn that degree. For the past 15 years he has held a job with Publix Supermarkets. These are accomplishments that his parents were told he could never hope to achieve.

In 2011, Doring was chosen to be a member of Team USA at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, where he won a gold medal in men’s singles.  After match point he burst into tears and kept apologizing for crying. “But I’ve never been this happy in my whole life,” he sobbed.

In 2012, the USTA Public Parks Tournament was held in Denver, and for the first time ever, the tournament included a division for players with intellectual disabilities. Doring entered and finished in second place both in singles and doubles.

Since then he has qualified as a USTA Chair Official with a goal to officiate at Special Olympics World Games one day. He now plays in USTA adult tournaments and local men’s leagues. Brimming with confidence, he has joined the tennis “mainstream” where his opponents recognize him for his ability, not his disability.

He has also been invited to tell his story to employees of Fortune 500 companies, fraternal organizations and even a state governor. As he speaks to crowds of 600 or 700 people, his parents can’t help but remember that little boy sitting alone in his room. What a change, thanks in no small part to a game – the wonderful game of tennis!


The USTA has developed a database of Adaptive Tennis Programs with the purpose of connecting tennis players with the programs available to meet their tennis needs. Stay informed about grants, events, awards and more. View the complete list of registered programs. If you do not see your program, register now for free.
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