Overcoming challenges through tennis with Ken Rodriguez
This month is Hispanic Heritage month (HHM). To celebrate, USTA Mid-Atlantic Foundation is honoring members of the Hispanic communities who contribute to our region’s vibrant tennis community both on and off the court.
Kenneth Rodriguez is a US Navy Veteran who lost his right leg during his service. Now, he is a para-standing adaptive tennis player who uses tennis as a way to stay healthy, physically and mentally, and accomplish one of his biggest achievements, playing on Arthur Ashe stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Para-standing tennis is for people with physical disabilities who play tennis without a wheelchair. Para-standing tennis is part of USTA’s Adaptive tennis programs for children and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities.
USTA Mid-Atlantic caught up with Ken to gain his viewpoint on how tennis has made an impact on him and the Hispanic, and Adaptive tennis community.
Tell me about yourself; where did you grow up and where do you live now/what do you do now?
I’m born and raised in Puerto Rico where I lived until the age of 25 and joined the US Navy.
I have played baseball and other sports since I was a child. My parents used to take me to baseball games every weekend and cheered me on every game.
While in the Navy, I lost my right leg in a helicopter accident while on deployment. I was sent by the Navy to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for rehab and currently live in Maryland close to the hospital.
When did you start playing tennis? OR When did you first get involved with tennis?
The first time that I picked up a racquet was in December of 2021 after my accident. It was recommended to me by the Wounded Warrior Project to go to a tennis clinic at JTCC. At first, I never held a racquet before, and I didn’t want to try to play tennis, but I thought, “Try it and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to go again.” Now, tennis has become part of my life.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I've always been good at sports and different types of activities that require physical effort. However, I have done more since losing my leg, including snowboarding. My biggest achievement in sports happened on September 9, 2023, before Coco Gauf won her title. I was one of the first para-standing tennis players to play an exhibition at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Definitely an experience that I will never forget.
In what ways has tennis become an important aspect in your life?
Tennis has become a sacred place where I can forget the pain, the anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I can put all of that to the side for the time that I’m on court and for it to be just me and the ball. Tennis became my physical therapy and a way to decompress mentally.
Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working in the Mid-Atlantic or through your involvement with tennis.
I’ve met high-level college players and pros at JTCC where I do my training, and learn from them in practice. I’ve met people with so much desire to help the tennis community, especially the Para-standing Tennis community.
What has surprised you most about tennis and its impact in the Mid-Atlantic region?
What surprised me the most is how people in the tennis community are willing to help other players improve their game, be competitive, and still have fun afterwards. This is great for the mid-atlantic community because it shows that anyone willing to try tennis, shouldn’t be afraid to hop on the court and play.
This year is USTA Mid-Atlantic's 100th anniversary, in what ways do you think tennis has evolved in the region's Hispanic community over the last 100 years?
The Hispanic tennis community has grown over time and I hope that it keeps growing for the reason that we, as Hispanics, are fighters since birth. It’s in our blood and it definitely would be great to have more Hispanic folks giving their best on court bringing the fighting spirits Hispanics have.
Why is it important to increase access to tennis in the Hispanic community?
Increasing access to tennis in the Hispanic community is very important because it would help kids stay out of trouble. Tennis can teach kids important values in life like discipline, respect, consistency and the desire to grind. Values that could help kids create a better future for themselves.
What would you tell someone interested in getting involved in tennis?
I would tell anyone trying to get into tennis… just do it. I tell everyone that tennis has given a new purpose to my life and offers me a big challenge since I started playing competitively. Facing and overcoming challenges is always good, no matter how difficult, pass or fail, you will learn a lot on the road until you accomplish your goals.
Using three words, how would you describe tennis in the Mid-Atlantic?
Challenging, enjoyable, and therapeutic.
This year USTA Mid-Atlantic, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is celebrating 100 years of promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Get involved and show your support for the next 100 years of tennis. Learn about our impact in the region and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.