WAGNER, TAYLOR DISCUSS
MOBILITY AWARENESS MONTH
Ashley Marshall | May 16, 2017
Wheelchair tennis legends David Wagner and Nick Taylor helped Team USA capture the bronze medal in the quad division at the World Team Cup earlier this month, which is also National Mobility Awareness Month. The medal is the latest in a string of titles, awards and accolades for the duo, who have won every major championship and medal the game has to offer.
USTA.com spoke with the friends and sure-fire Hall of Famers about National Mobility Awareness Month, how far wheelchair tennis has come over the past two decades and what can be done to raise the profile of the sport even more in the coming years.
USTA.com: Why is it important to recognize National Mobility Awareness Month?
David Wagner: I feel it is important because it helps to remind everyone that you can still accomplish your dreams even if you have a disability. ADVERTISEMENT It might also come at time in someone's life where they need to see or be reminded of this and it can have a positive impact in their life.
Nick Taylor: I think it's so important to recognize because a very high percentage of our population has a disability and so many people don't realize that. It's important because as a disabled person, we do need things to be accessible and functional for us. Without it, we're completely trapped, like when we play tournaments in other countries that don't have these laws and regulations. We were just in Italy and we had to pick the restaurant based on what we could get into, not based on where we really wanted to go to.
USTA.com: How does it feel to know you're in a position to inspire others and show how people with disabilities can lead active lifestyles?
Wagner: It's a nice feeling to have. If I can inspire others or even change stereotypes about people with disabilities, I am happy to do that.
Taylor: It's very humbling. For a long time, I absolutely despised the word "inspirational." I hated the idea that I was an inspirational. Then, I finally just grew to get it and understand it. It's not that it's my motivation to want to play or do things, but now I look at it and say that if I can play tennis with the severity of disability that I have, it might show another disabled kid or a parent of a disabled kid, that if Nick can do it, my kid who is only half as disabled as him can do it. It doesn't have to be someone with a disability. It could be a fully able-bodied person that is looking for excuses not to do something. If them seeing me do something inspires them to do something, that's awesome.
USTA.com: David, as a former teacher and educator, how important is it to you to teach society about sport and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities?
Wagner: I believe that sports and recreation opportunities are very important for people with a disability. This is an avenue for a person with a disability to be active and enjoy their life. If someone looks at what I am doing and it motivates them to try it or try some other form of sport or recreation, I feel good to know I helped with that.
USTA.com: The World Team cup is one of the biggest wheelchair tennis events in the world. Is there an extra importance to the tournament taking place in May, when more focus is given to wheelchair sports?
Wagner: I love the opportunity to represent the USA in World Team Cup every year and be with my coaches and teammates. It is nice that it falls within this month, when more focus is given to wheelchair sports. If it can be seen by more people, then it can have a positive impact for a greater number of people.
USTA.com: How have you seen attitudes toward wheelchair tennis change over the past 20 years or so?
Wagner: I have seen attitudes change for the better by becoming more accepting of wheelchair tennis. In the past, some courts where not willing to allow wheelchairs on them. Now all courts and all surfaces are open to having wheelchair tennis played on them. As wheelchair tennis has become more and more mainstream, people involved with tennis are appreciating wheelchair tennis more as well.
Taylor: It has become and is continuing to become more and more professional from every angle, from the players to the training regimen to the coaches that are coaching it to the people running tournaments and officiating.
USTA.com: What's the next step the sport can take to help highlight wheelchair tennis even more?
Taylor: It has to get more media attention. It has to get on TV. Until it becomes a somewhat regular thing on TV, not just a one-off, 30-minute thing a year, that's when you'll start to see the top players start to get some really big sponsorships. It's not going to happen all of a sudden, but it has to happen over time.
Wagner: I believe that full inclusion of all wheelchair tennis divisions in all four Grand Slams will help to highlight every aspect of wheelchair tennis that there currently is. I also believe that wheelchair technology will help to improve the players' mobility around the court, which will continue to make wheelchair tennis a fan favorite. Also the inclusion of wheelchair tennis at the USTA National Campus has been a huge help to highlighting wheelchair tennis in the USA.
USTA.com: What's the one thing you'd like people to know specifically about the quad division of wheelchair tennis?
Wagner: The quad division has many different types of disabilities, from players who can not lift their arms over their heads or shoulders to players who can not hold the racquet without a hand brace or using athletic tape to strap the racquet to their hand. All of these differences in disabilities make the quad division such a great and impressive division to watch.
Taylor: That it is in many ways we're the most severley disabled of everyone playing wheelchair tennis, and as a result, we have to think the most creatively and adapt and do some things differently. David has to tape the racquet in his hand. A lot of people might not even see the tape or realize that he's stuck in that one grip for the entire match. If you see pictures of me, I'm holding onto the racquet completely backward and using my foot to serve.
The quad division is a testament to human creativity and adaptability. There are very few of us are doing it the way a "normal person" would do it. We're having to do things very, very differently.
USTA.com: David, you've obviously known and played alongside Nick for a long time. What's your favorite story about him?
Wagner: One of my favorite stories with Nick is from the very first time we played each other. We had never played each other before this time and we drew each other in the quarterfinal of a past tournament called the World Challenge. I beat him in this match and was very happy to get this win. However, for about the next two years I didn't beat him again. I like this story because it reminds of just how much of a competitor Nick truly is. He took the challenge to beat me (and beat me bad he did) every time we faced off against each other. This is just one reason our competitive drive worked so well together. We both want to win every time.
USTA.com: And Nick, what's your favorite story about David?
Taylor: My favorite moment that he and I will always share together is winning the gold in London [at the 2012 Paralympic Games] because it was such a cool moment. To put it into perspective, not only were we playing for the gold medal and playing two guys from England, we were playing two guys from London in London. We were not popular people. Completely sold-out stadium. It felt like a soccer game, it was so loud.
USTA.com: When you look back at everything you have accomplished, what stands out the most?
Taylor: If I had to pick one, it would probably be that gold medal match in London. The other two golds and all the other Grand Slams are close.
Wagner: I would have to say that winning eight Paralympic medals, 19 total Grand Slam titles and eight World Team Cup titles stands out equally together.