"New lease on life": Wheelchair tennis clinic highlights value of inclusivity

Michael Perchick Image
Sunday, July 9, 2023
Wheelchair tennis clinic highlights value of inclusivity
"New lease on life"

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Marine Corps veteran Chris Thomas grew up playing sports, but when he got injured in the service, which later led to a leg amputation, he was worried about staying active.

"It was a really low time for me. I didn't know what I was going to do. Before the injury, I was really athletic, and since then I didn't get out, didn't communicate with people, didn't do anything," said Thomas.

The Durham VA introduced him to a wheelchair tennis clinic run by Western Wake Tennis Association.

"This kind of gave me a new lease on life. I call it the back nine of my life, and I'm really enjoying the back nine doing stuff. It allowed me to meet people I would have never met, (or) ventured out to talk to," said Thomas.

The program, which is held in Cary and Apex, is backed by town officials, volunteers, and grants. Organizers have eight wheelchairs that can be used and support efforts with non-profits for customized chairs, which can cost $3,000 each.

The financial backing is vital; according to the 2012 American Community Survey, North Carolinians with a disability were nearly three times as likely to not have worked in the past year, and about 50% more likely to live below the poverty line.

"Being able to go somewhere and not having to fit the whole bill for yourself makes this whole thing a possibility," said Thomas.

For clinics, participants vary in age and experience, with some traveling an hour to attend.

"We have seen an increase in our numbers with the population growth," said Reid Kinlaw, the Head Tennis Professional in the Town of Cary.

Thomas would like to see greater access too

"A regular stand-up tournament, you can pick how many you want to play and not drive an hour from your house. But in wheelchair tournaments, you're going to drive states away just to get there," said Thomas. "So I would love for them to include wheelchair players in regular standup tournaments as well just to make it more inclusive for us. Because whether we win or lose, we want to play too."

The next wheelchair tennis clinic will be held, rain or shine, on Saturday, July 22nd.

Western Wake Tennis Association also hosts a separate clinic for players with intellectual disabilities.