Adaptive tennis programs thrive in 2022 National Tennis Month
Adaptive tennis was well-represented in the more than 500 events held around the country in all 17 USTA sections in celebration of National Tennis Month in May. Read on to find out how groups in Gaithersburg, Md., Greensboro, N.C. and across the state of Georgia honored the month with a whole host of fun events for the whole family.
Adaptive Tennis Showcase - Gaithersburg, Md.
A tennis exhibition was presented by Adaptive Tennis US, Quince Orchard Swim and Tennis Club, and the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCACC) on Memorial Day weekend as part of National Tennis Month and the grand opening event at the club. The main reason for this event was to showcase adaptive tennis and show how tennis can be used as a pathway for healing.
Adaptive tennis continues to be a hard-to-define entity. Adaptive tennis has been associated with Special Olympics, but there is a more diverse range of conditions. Currently, the USTA defines adaptive players in three main categories: physical rehabilitation, cognitive-developmental and social-emotional.
The format consisted of a 30-minute singles competition between two able-bodied players, a 30-minute singles match between two adaptive players, and an hour-long match between two doubles teams comprised of an able-bodied player with an adaptive player.
The able-bodied players were Bear Hunter Lee, who was a Maryland state champion at the age of 12, and reached No. 30 in the Mid-Atlantic region. He played four years of college tennis at Whitman College, where the team reached as high as No. 8 in the national Division III rankings. His opponent was Uros Petronijevic, a 2017 graduate of the University of San Diego, where he was an All-American, ranked Top 16 in the nation, and the USD Athlete of the Year. He then went on to the ATP tour.
The two adaptive players were Richard “Hercules” Herkowitz and Kenneth “Rocket “ Rodriguez Gonzalez. Herkowitz was a former professional body builder, who was diagnosed in October 2005 with the flesh-eating disease necrotizing fasciitis. After 15 months of treatment, it was decided that his leg would not recover full use, and it was amputated below the knee in December of 2006. Initially, there was some pain with the use of the prosthesis, but gradually this pain became unbearable due to the lack of tissue covering the end of his severed bone. In July 2009, it was decided to amputate the leg above the knee. After joining the TAP tennis league for standing adaptive tennis players, Herkowitz achieved a ranking of No. 23 in the world in 2017, and later reached No. 8 in the world in 2019.
Rodriguez Gonzalez has a sports background in track as a sprinter, and in AA baseball as a catcher and pitcher. On the night of Dec. 24, a helicopter weighing over 21,000 pounds ran over his lower right leg and left thigh twice. Despite multiple surgeries, the only solution to negate the pain was an amputation operation that was performed in February 2021. Later, he was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he began his therapy to recover. Part of this process was to join Adaptive Tennis US and learn a new sport. He began training in December and continues to improve his game.
The event fulfilled the goals of making the public more aware of the capabilities of adaptive players in the game of tennis and how tennis can be a transformative means of healing for those who are of diminished capacity. - Dr. Karl Lee
Adaptive Tennis US was created by Dr. Karl Lee to allow a pathway for healing, both physically and mentally. His philosophy is to adapt as instructors to change the way that tennis is taught to the individual players, so that the players have the best chance at success. He utilized his background as a USPTA pro and merged his training as a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist to design a program that will enable the adaptive player to become a tennis player. The players are the inspiration, and whatever the result, they are the definition of success.
Special Pops Tennis - Georgia
Special Pops Tennis celebrated National Tennis Month throughout May at all of its 18 locations. A special celebration was held at the close of a six-week session at a facility selected by the SPT leadership to recognize the athletes, individuals with a cognitive disability, and the volunteers, comprised of tennis enthusiasts, league players, and people with a passion for helping others.
Many of the athletes who train at Lifetime Athletics and Tennis in Peachtree Corners, Ga. were preparing for competition at Special Olympics Georgia Summer Games at Emory University. At the final session, the athletes trained for the usual 90 minutes and then to their surprise, more than 60 athletes, volunteers, and family members were treated to a smoothie in a flavor of their choice. This was made possible thanks to USTA Southern, Lifetime Athletics and Tennis, and many volunteers. This photo shows their passion for the sport (and their love of a good smoothie drink) with friends at the end of a practice session.
National Tennis Month will long be remembered by the Special Pops Tennis participants.
Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina - Greensboro, N.C.
In honor of National Tennis Month, the Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina (ATANC) launched a new statewide tournament called the Sherwood Abilities Tennis Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
ATANC provides free tennis programming for athletes ages 8 and up with intellectual disabilities. Tennis clinics are provided in 27 locations, and prior to 2022, ATANC also hosted six tournaments throughout North Carolina. The tournaments give athletes the opportunity to showcase the skills they developed at the clinics and provide athletes and their families and/or caregivers a chance to socialize together. By bringing people together, tournaments bring a sense of community and foster a sense of support among participants.
ATANC executive director Lou Welch said the event was a long time coming. “We have been working for several years to make a seventh Abilities Tennis tournament a reality. COVID-19 prevented us from starting it two years ago, but the commitment remained strong," he said. "The delay just made the Sherwood Abilities Tennis Tournament in 2022 feel like a monumental achievement. Sherwood Swim and Racquet Club, Guilford Regional Tennis Association (GRETA) partnered with Abilities Tennis to make this event a tremendous success.”
Jinni Hoggard, director of the Greensboro ATANC clinics, enlisted her neighbors to open their homes to out-of-town athletes and their families. The community support for the inaugural Sherwood Abilities Tennis Tournament was very special. Participants received free lodging, a neighborhood cookout on the eve of the tournament, and a large breakfast send-off before hitting the courts for the day. Many families appreciated the gesture so much that they said it was a highlight of their weekend. Word spread about the community’s generosity, and a nearby bed-and-breakfast has already offered to donate their lodgings next year so that more out-of-town athletes can be accommodated.
In addition to the many parents, caregivers, spectators and enthusiastic volunteers, 26 eager athletes traveled from across the state to play in the tournament. Despite a heat wave that sent temperatures soaring up to 90 degrees, there wasn’t a single complaint. As one athlete said, “I’m just happy any time I can play tennis.”