Blossomed in Spring
May 1, 2018
The most ambitious and exciting event on our adaptive tennis calendar that takes place every May is the National Wounded Warriors Camp.
In 2018, the camp celebrated its seventh year, and was held from May 6-12 at the Balboa Tennis Club in San Diego, Calif.
Fifty-five active-duty service members and veterans of all ages with various degrees of tennis experience (from none to some) arrived from 20 states for their all-expenses-paid tennis adventure thanks to the generosity of local businesses and a tennis community of donors both near and far.
The camp was founded by retired Navy Captain Steve Kappes, a member of our USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee, and Geoff Griffin, the tennis director of the Balboa Club. It grew out of a year-round effort at the club to use tennis as a means of “rehabilitation and community integration” for wounded, ill and injured warriors from all branches of the U.S. ADVERTISEMENT services.
The theme this year was, “I Am Not Alone,” to unite those who suffered from emotional trauma.
The veterans immediately bonded, and soon began to feel like family. Comments of praise included, “Tennis is a great healer as it fills the mind with something other than what we have gone through,“ and “it’s great hanging out with folks who understand us.”
The object was not to create world-class backhands or tournament competitors, but merely to provide exercise and fun to relieve stress, allow an outlet to vent their frustrations, and the simplicity of just moving their bodies. Kappes and Griffin hope that when the participants return home they can continue to play and use tennis as a part of their rehab.
Participant Isaac Cortes of N.Y., who has attended many of the San Diego camps, credits the program with removing his suicidal thoughts and giving him a reason to live again. In fact, when he got back to New York last year, he had a goal to pursue: to share his love for tennis with other wounded warriors near his home.
Earlier this spring Isaac’s dream came to fruition! Warriors from across Westchester County and the New York City metro area flocked to Yonkers Tennis Center in Yonkers, N.Y., for a night of tennis, food, friends and fun. Most had never even picked up a racquet before. Isaac said he was moved to tears.
Each veteran was invited with one guest, free of charge, and more than 30 veterans and guests attended this inaugural event. At the end of the night after two hours of drills and games, the veterans were treated to refreshments provided and sponsored by Whole Foods Yonkers. The night ended with a raffle where veterans won prizes and gifts from various local retail stores. In addition, each warrior went home with a new tennis racquet, a can of balls and a bag.
The veterans not only played tennis, but also made new friends and re-established relationships with previous friendships. While the participants enjoyed all the physicality of the tennis activities, more importantly, the evening inserted some fun in their lives! The warriors were heard throughout the night expressing their desire and enthusiasm to sign up for the next event. The sooner, the better, they said!
As a result of the success achieved for this first-time effort, additional warrior events in N.Y. are currently in the process of being planned.
Kappes and Griffin hope that others from their camps and those who hear of their success will also consider beginning programs, too. There are a lot of servicemen and women who are alone dealing with physical and mental challenges. They could use a little tennis in their lives, and those who administer a dose of tennis will find themselves as richly and healthily rewarded as their warriors.
- Published for the 2018 June Adapt It! Quarterly Newsletter