wheelchair tennis founder to receive ITF's highest honor
Brad Parks' life was changed forever in 1976 when the skiing prodigy with dreams of international stardom crashed on the slopes and was paralyzed from the waist down. But rather than let the career-ending injury define him, Parks instead turned to tennis and opened the door for thousands of wheelchair-bound athletes to enjoy the sport for a lifetime.
In recognition of his contributions to the game, the father of wheelchair tennis will receive the International Tennis Federation’s highest honor this month as wheelchair tennis celebrates its 40th anniversary: Parks will be named the 2016 recipient of the Philippe Chatrier Award at the ITF World Champions Dinner at the Pavillion Cambon Capucines in Paris on May 31.
The award, named after the former ITF President, was introduced in 1996 and is presented each year for outstanding contributions to the game of tennis. Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo are among former American recipients.
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the ITF in awarding me the Phillip Chatrier Award," said the 59-year-old Parks. "I look back over the last 40 years and all that I can say is that I never thought wheelchair tennis would be where it is today. The ITF has been so supportive and I can't thank them enough for all they have done to make wheelchair tennis one of the greatest wheelchair sports.”
Parks suffered his accident as an 18-year-old, in 1976. The California native played tennis growing up, and following his injury, he pondered whether the sport could be played in a wheelchair.
Parks led exhibitions and clinics to teach the sport to disabled adults and children throughout the 1980s, establishing the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis and creating a 10-circuit tournament that culminated with the U.S. Open wheelchair tennis championships, initially held in California.
In 1988, Parks, the No. 1-ranked player from 1980 to 1989, became the inaugural president of the new International Wheelchair Tennis Federation while continuing to compete on the circuit.
Wheelchair tennis was added to the Paralympic Games in 1992, where Parks and the late Randy Snow won doubles gold for the U.S., and the sport became fully integrated into the ITF in 1998, making wheelchair tennis the first disability sport to achieve such a union at the international level.
The Wheelchair Tennis Tour originated in 1992 with 11 international tournaments, and it has grown to its current total of more than 150 tournaments in more than 40 countries, offering more than $2 million in prize money.
Parks was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010, while the Brad Parks Award is presented annually by the ITF to an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution to wheelchair tennis.
“As wheelchair tennis celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is fitting that we honor one of the most inspirational figures in our sport," said ITF President David Haggerty. "Brad Parks’ vision and perseverance have enabled wheelchair tennis to become one of the fastest growing Paralympic sports, and provided opportunities for thousands of children and adults. We are delighted to present him with the Philippe Chatrier Award.”