Paralympian Bruce Karr lived to serve wheelchair sport

Victoria Chiesa | December 06, 2021

After a life rich in experiences and decades of service to adaptive sport, former Paralympian and wheelchair tennis administrator Bruce Karr passed away on Dec. 1 at the age of 85. 


Born and raised outside of Chicago, Karr lived much of his later adult life in Florida, where he made his biggest contributions to wheelchair tennis stateside—but only after his athletic achievements made him a bonafide citizen of the world.


Stricken with polio as a high school senior, leaving him with little strength in his right leg and none in his left, Karr competed in five Paralympics from 1960 through 1978—the 1960 Stoke Mandeville Games in Rome, Italy are retroactively recognized as the first international Paralympic Games—and won 12 medals in sports including wheelchair basketball, archery, table tennis and swimming. Karr also played a role at the last Summer Paralympics on U.S. soil to date, carrying the torch in Atlanta in 1996.


Having played tennis in his high school years, Karr competed in wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois but returned to tennis as an administrator later in life. He first served as a regional director for the former National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis—formed in 1980 by Brad and Wendy Parks to assist with the development and promotion of the game, and later helped in the sport's transition into goverance by the USTA in 1998. He went on to serve on the USTA Wheelchair Tennis Committee and was the longtime tournament director for the Florida Open in Boca Raton, one of the largest events on the ITF UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour.


As a Series 1 event, and later, a top-tier Super Series event, the Florida Open attracted the world's best players for the better part of two decades and was voted ITF Tournament of the Year by players in 2002.

Among numerous accolades, Karr received the USTA's Brad Parks Award in 2004 and the ITF’s Brad Parks Award in 2006 for national and international contributions to wheelchair tennis, respectively, and was inducted into the Adaptive Sports USA Hall of Fame in 1983. 


Karr is survived by his wife, Verena, with whom he co-directed the Florida Open. In 1986, the pair founded the nonprofit National Wheelchair Sports Fund (NWSF), which provides financial assistance to adaptive athletes for travel, competition and equipment, and also helps to certify coaches.


“Wheelchair sports has taken me all over the place,” Karr said in a profile by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum last year. “I got involved with tennis when I moved down to Florida and I’ve played in tournaments all over the world. It’s been quite a ride.”


Donations in Bruce’s memory can be made by check to the National Wheelchair Sports Fund (NWSF) and mailed to Verena Karr, 3595 Royal Tern Circle, Boynton Beach, FL 33436.

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