Mackenzie Soldan on Being an Athlete:
'Something within my purpose'
Victoria Chiesa | May 5, 2020
For the month of May, USTA.com is celebrating National Mobility Awareness Month by highlighting some of the American players, events, influencers and trailblazers who make wheelchair tennis special. Kicking off the series is a spotlight on two-time Paralympian Mackenzie Soldan, who is currently in the midst of her second chapter as a professional wheelchair tennis player.
In 2018, Mackenzie Soldan, already a two-time Paralympian, became the first wheelchair tennis player to train full-time at the USTA National Campus in pursuit of her next athletic dream.
Picking up her life and moving to a new place, and blazing trails for her peers in the process, is just the latest move the now-27-year-old has made that exemplifies one of the core tenets of the USTA Player Development program: determination.ADVERTISEMENT
Born in Michigan, Soldan lost the use of her legs due to a spinal cord tumor that was first discovered when she was less than a year old. Splitting her formative years between Michigan and Kentucky, the young Soldan excelled in not one, but two wheelchair sports in her youth—a trend that continued at the elite level, after she overcame another set of surgeries to correct curvatures in her spine at the age of 12.
As a high school senior at the Christian Academy of Louisville, Soldan was the top-ranked American wheelchair tennis player and also reached the Top 20 in the ITF women's rankings in 2010. Ultimately, she later graduated from the University of Alabama in 2014, where she was a member of the wheelchair basketball team on an athletic scholarship.
A member of Team USA in both sports, Soldan was a gold medalist in both singles and doubles at the 2011 Parapan American Games, and she competed in singles and doubles in wheelchair tennis at the London Paralympics in 2012. In the next Olympic cycle, she returned to basketball—self-described as her first passion—and was a member of the gold medal-winning American team in 2016 in Rio.
After having her "dream come true" in Rio, Soldan thought her time in elite-level international sports was over—until Jason Harnett, USTA national manager for wheelchair tennis, needed another member for the American team that was headed to the 2017 World Team Cup in Italy.
"I had to convince her to come out of retirement," he said, "so convincing her while she was still in really good playing shape to get back into tennis... her goals were pretty clear."
And while the longtime goal that helped spark her return to tennis—the Tokyo Paralympics—has been postponed until next summer due to the global coronavirus outbreak, Soldan has no plans to slow down when her next chapter in tennis resumes.
"Being an athlete was something that I always knew was in my purpose, for whatever reason," she said. "Having that in mind and knowing that that's where I feel like I'm supposed to be is something that kept me going."