Wheelchair Tennis Spotlight:
Erin Maher | May 17, 2019
In honor of National Mobility Awareness Month in May, USTA.com is highlighting collegiate wheelchair tennis players and coaches who keep the game rolling and serve as ambassadors for the sport.
College senior Auburn Smith has been playing wheelchair tennis since she was 12 years old, attending clinics and USTA camps that have not only helped her improve her game, but have also helped her find community and camaraderie in the sport.
The Port Orange, Fla., native will be graduating from the University of Central Florida in June with a degree in public administration, with hopes to work for a nonprofit that works with people with disabilities.
USTA.com recently caught up with Smith at the 2019 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., where she won the national championship in the Singles C flight. ADVERTISEMENT Smith is also currently wrapping up her internship with the USTA, where she has been working with the facilities team since January.
USTA.com: How long have you been playing wheelchair tennis?
Auburn Smith: I’ve been playing wheelchair tennis for about 12 years.
USTA.com: How did you first get involved with wheelchair tennis?
I was at a clinic for able-bodied people, with a coach that was in a wheelchair. She wondered why I wasn’t playing, and she made me go out and start playing.
So, that’s when it all started.
USTA.com: Why were you at the clinic? Were you there to support someone else?
Auburn Smith: Yeah, I was there for my best friend. She was playing and I just went to cheer her on, and just hang out, and so they got me playing then.
USTA.com: How was your first time playing?
Auburn Smith: It was weird, because I didn’t know how to move in a tennis wheelchair, and then having to hit the ball. So, it was a little rough, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it was good. I enjoyed it the first time I played.
USTA.com: So what made you stick with playing wheelchair tennis for this long?
Auburn Smith: Mostly it’s because I didn’t know how to be active being in a wheelchair. So playing tennis, that kind of motivated me more to stick with it.
And then meeting all the different people throughout it; I just love it. I have like a little tennis family, so that’s why I stuck with it for so long.
USTA.com: So what do you enjoy most about playing wheelchair tennis?
Auburn Smith: For me, I like playing independent sports. So I like playing solo, being able to coach myself through everything and not have to worry about the other team.
And I also like just the competiveness of it, a lot of camaraderie as well, and it shows. I enjoy always playing.
USTA.com: You are currently interning at the USTA National Campus. How is that experience so far?
Auburn Smith: I love working here, and everyone’s so nice, and very accepting of everything. They always try to include me in anything possible. I absolutely love interning here. I’m very glad that I got it.
USTA.com: What’s the greatest lesson that you’ve learned so far interning here?
Auburn Smith: I think it’s mostly learning how to work with an actual business, because I’ve never done that being in college. So kind of seeing the different departments and how they all come together to get something done.
It’s kind of learning how to kind of speak to others within other departments, work and collaborate, and how it all comes together.
USTA.com: What advice would you give to someone trying wheelchair tennis for the first time?
Auburn Smith: Don’t quit it when you first start, because it’s going to be frustrating for a little bit. You just have to keep going, you have to learn more than able-bodied tennis, but it’s so worth it and you’ll learn so much from it both with tennis and outside of the court and meeting new people. It’s totally worth it to play wheelchair tennis.
Follow all the wheelchair tennis action on Facebook at USTA Wheelchair Tennis.
Pictured above: Auburn Smith at the 2019 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships. (Photo Credit: Erin Maher/USTA)