High School Volunteer Ryan O'Connor Changes Lives with Adaptive Program in Tampa
Volunteers are the backbone to USTA Florida. Whether helping run events, keeping score, or just organizing the game, they play a huge role in making tennis one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Yet, how many high school students give up their free time to help out community tennis?
Land O’Lakes sophomore, Ryan O’Connor, is an anomaly when it comes to the average teenager. Ryan loves tennis and has been playing for roughly 13 years of his life. When he was 7, he wanted to pick between baseball and tennis, so he made the decision to fully commit to the racquet sport and now he’s accomplishing great things.
As just a sophomore, Ryan is the captain of the tennis team at Land O’Lakes, part of the Future Business Leaders of America, and now runs an USTA sponsored adaptive tennis program.
While it seems out of the ordinary to run an adaptive program at such a young age, for Ryan, it seemed like a no brainer to try to help because he was born three months early, which led to some dexterity issues for him.
“The right side of my body was extremely rigid. It wouldn’t move, my body was not willing to move at all,” he recalled. “With the motions of tennis, you have to use the muscles on both sides of the body, so the game really helped grow my dexterity.”
Knowing tennis was a massive part of helping him get over some of his troubles with his body, he didn’t hesitate to start a program to do the same for younger players. “That was definitely a big reason to start it, because I knew how much it helped me and I knew it could help others out there as well.”
He originally just looked around to see if there was already a program that could help people with dexterity problems or disabilities in his community, but after seeing nothing he took action.
After getting some help from his teachers and assistant principal at his high school, Ryan was able to become sponsored by USTA. “I went to USTA for the sponsorship so that I could get free equipment to help support people that maybe couldn’t afford access to tennis,” Ryan said. “Tennis is a sport that should be open to everybody, because it is one of the only sports where there’s so many points to adapt the game.”
Despite being so young, Ryan only saw the positive in spending some of his free time to help out children that may be struggling in their day-to-day activities. “I realized that I could have a good impact on my community, something really strong, and that actually stays there for a while,” he said. “At least for me, I hope that by being a mentor to these kids, that I can help them [with their lives] and maybe one day they will give back to their community.”
This is all volunteer work, no one told Ryan to do this, no one planted the idea in his brain, he truly cares so much about helping these kids overcome challenges in their life.
“My biggest joy isn’t only that I really see improvement, but every time they walk on and off the court, they're always happy to be there,” he said. “They actually enjoy the program, which gives me a lot of joy knowing that I'm making a difference in these kids’ lives and that they are really getting some change out of it, while also having fun.”