The first wheelchair camp started in 1980 at Saddleback College teaming up in a partnership with the city of Mission Viejo. (Photograph/Courtesy of Steven Bell)
The top 18 Doubles Masters World Championship is coming to the Mission Viejo Marguerite Tennis Pavilion for the second year in a row and will take place Nov. 5-9.
The original wheelchair sports camp was held at Saddleback College in 1980. It originated to help disabled persons rehabilitate their mental and physical needs. Because of the program’s great success, the sport grew. That partnership continued through the early 90s. Players such as Rick Draney and Brad Parks went on to compete in the Paralympics.
Mission Viejo Mayor Trish Kelley said the event promotes character, perseverance and portrays a message to never give up.
“We in Mission Viejo are the originators for the sport and there are so many volunteers that show up to lend a hand,” Kelley said. “The city feels it brings national and international awareness and we as a city can respond and have a desire to see this type of thing grow.”
Due to last year’s attendance, the city wants to promote the event earlier.
“Attendance is a huge focus this year. Last year we had to educate the people about the sport and once they showed up, we couldn’t get them to leave,” said Steven Bell, Mission Viejo’s community services manager. “It’s one of those sports where, you might not be a big tennis fan but everyone likes to see someone overcoming adversity.”
The rules are exactly the same as regular tennis except for one.
“The only difference is the ball can bounce twice,”said Jason Harnett, wheelchair tennis coach of Mission Viejo. “They train just as hard as regular tennis pros do throughout the year and are in tiptop shape.”
Harnett says it’s crucial to find the right chair to play in and he knows this because he has been in a wheelchair to experience what it feels like. However, the first time he proceeded to do this, he quickly fell backwards and banged his head on the cement.
The players who are most inspiring are those who are athletes in a wheelchair.
“David Wagner, who was a star last year, had a surfing accident that paralyzed him when he was 20 years old by diving into a sandbar,” Kelley said. “He had to overcome a great deal to get to the level of his athletic ability.”
Wagner is the No. 1 singles player in the world in the Quad division, Bell said. He has also been in the top three since 2003. For the tournament, Wagner will be paired with Nick Taylor of Wichita, Kansas.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation awarded the City of Mission Viejo with a grant for $11,000 to purchase sports wheelchairs to be used in clinics and camps conducted by the city.
“We are looking to expand our program so we can use the equipment already available,” Bell said.
For more information, visit the city of Mission Viejo’s website, missionviejo.org.
Video by Elizabeth Ortiz