Team USA Wheelchair Spotlight:
Erin Maher | May 10, 2018
In honor of National Mobility Awareness Month in May, USTA.com is highlighting members of the Team USA wheelchair squad. Six men and women will represent the U.S. at the BNP Paribas World Team Cup final, the wheelchair tennis equivalent of Davis Cup and Fed Cup, in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, from May 28-June 3. This week we caught up with 2016 Paralympian Shelby Baron.
2016 Paralympian and the University of Alabama's Shelby Baron took home her third National collegiate team title last month at the 2018 Wheelchair Tennis Collegiate National Championships. The 23-year-old Honolulu native placed second in her singles flight, earning four points for her team and helping the University of Alabama edge ahead to take the trophy.
We recently sat down with Baron as she gears up for her return to the World Team Cup to talk tennis, her life off the court and how her Team USA team members inspire her. ADVERTISEMENT
USTA.com: You’re returning to the World Team Cup this year for the first time since 2016. What are your hopes for you and your team?
Shelby Baron: I’m just really hoping we can compete because, last year, we had a lot of players take some time off because they were post-Paralympic year, getting some rest, just recuperating. The playing field wasn’t as tough, and now Great Britain is back in the mix, I see. They won European qualifiers. I’m just hoping we have a really great time and hope we’re going to really bond as a team because this is the team that’s going to make that push towards the Paralympics in 2020.
USTA.com: What team do you think will be your greatest obstacle to the World Team Cup title?
Shelby Baron: Probably the Netherlands. They have three of the top five women in the world. They’re really good, they’re super solid –
but I mean, why can’t we be like them?
USTA.com: What made you choose to play at the University of Alabama?
Shelby Baron: I was actually at the University of Hawaii for two years, and then a couple of Alabama players went to a tournament in Hilton Head, and that’s where Alabama saw me. I played one of their players, and I beat her, and they just recruited me from that. I decided to transfer, and they gave me a scholarship for wheelchair tennis, which is really hard to come by, so I just couldn’t refuse it.
USTA.com: You balance your tennis career as a full-time graduate student. What are you studying in grad school?
Shelby Baron: Speech pathology.
USTA.com: So you want to be a speech pathologist?
Shelby Baron: Yeah. It’s pretty tough. I’m still training full-time, and I’m on the court five days a week and in the weight room three days a week, and I do 15 hours of credits, and then I have 15 hours with clients per week. So it’s pretty busy, but I love it. At least I’m loving what I’m doing, and tennis gives me that break from school, and I get to hang out with my team.
USTA.com: What pushed you to study speech pathology?
Shelby Baron: I really like working with kids, but also I wanted to help people with disabilities, but I couldn’t be a physical therapist. I really like languages, so it’s been kind of my way of giving back. I’ve been in hospitals all my life, so I like to give back to the community in any way that I can.
USTA.com: You previously mentioned your training schedule, but can you dive deeper, and tell us what you’re focusing on at the moment?
Shelby Baron: Right now, I guess we’re just focusing on match play, as I’m at the collegiate championships. But during the summer I’ll break it down and try to bring my game up to the next level. I broke Top 25 this year, but I really want to keep on going. We’re also just working in the weight room, getting stronger. We have a new strength and conditioning coach we’ve been working with every day.
USTA.com: How old were you when you first got involved in wheelchair tennis?
Shelby Baron: I was about 10 years old when I first started playing junior team tennis with my team and my brother. It at first was just for fun and for exercise, and then I went to the 2010 Junior Camp in Mission Viejo, Calif. That’s where I met Dan James, the [former] national manager for wheelchair tennis, and that’s when I got on the team, and I’ve been playing ever since.
USTA.com: Did you ever think when you first started playing that you would have had two national collegiate titles under your belt and you’d be competing in such events like the World Team Cup?
Shelby Baron: No. When I first started playing, it was for exercise. I had no idea there was a whole world out here when you play tournaments. The Paralympics – I didn’t know what the Paralympics were when I was younger. And I didn’t know I’d have such an opportunity to play college tennis. Even now, we’re the biggest program in the nation. We’re still building, we’re still trying to get other athletes, other juniors out there to have college as their goal. If they can’t make it to the Paralympics, at least they have it as their stepping stone and are halfway there.
USTA.com: What tennis players do you look up to?
Shelby Baron: I really look up to Mackenzie Soldan, my old Alabama teammate. She is just really dedicated. She’s all around a great athlete and a great person. She has a wonderful sense of humor, she never talks bad about anybody, and she’s just really fun to be around. I really like her.
USTA.com: What would you tell anyone first starting wheelchair tennis?
Shelby Baron: Don’t give up. It’s really hard. When I first started learning wheelchair tennis, I was also learning how to push a wheelchair, holding a racquet, swinging a racquet. It’s really difficult, but don’t give up because you can go so far. We’re trying to create so many goals for children now, to have youth divisions, Paralympics, World Team Cup – there are just so many opportunities out there. It’s a sport you can play for a lifetime.
Follow wheelchair tennis action on Facebook at USTA Wheelchair Tennis.
Pictured above: Chris Herman competing at the 2018 USTA National Collegiate Wheelchair Championships. (Photo credit: Alyssa Simonin, USTA)