By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Mobility is a part of many tennis camps. Players must be able to go from sideline to sideline, and from the baseline to the net and back.
But the tennis camp at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham entails a different type of mobility as these campers are on wheels.
The United States Tennis Association/International Tennis Federation (USTA/ITF) Junior Wheelchair Camp of the Americas took place on the hardcourts of Lakeshore earlier this month and featured an ITF/USTA-sanctioned junior tournament.
“This is one of three camps in the world like it,” said Jason Harnett, national manager of wheelchair tennis for the USTA. “There are two other camps in western and eastern Europe, and another one in Africa.”
The camp at Lakeshore had players from the United States, Canada, Chile, Guatemala and Colombia, making it an international melting pot.
Nathan Melnyk is a 17-year-old from Center Point, New York, which is on Long Island. He has played nearly eight years and was a member of the World Team Cup-winning squad of the United States.
“Wheelchair tennis really teaches me to push my boundaries,” he said. “It helps me to develop my competitive nature.”
Puisand Lai is a 16-year-old from Toronto, Canada. She said her mother “kind of dragged me into a bunch of sports. I just stuck with tennis. I like how there’s always goals for me to try to be able to be as good as other people, as consistent and everything.”
Said Harnett: “We have kids from different countries coming together, rooming together, spending a week together. Some don’t speak English. Some of them don’t speak Spanish.”
Tennis is their common language.
“Sports is what brings us together,” the USTA wheelchair tennis leader said. “We’re so happy to be at the Lakeshore Foundation, which was really designed and was built for disabled sports.”
Tennis had been a prominent part of the Lakeshore operation as it hosted the World Challenge wheelchair tennis tournament for several years. Harnett recalled 15 years ago being part of national camps on the Lakeshore campus, which has since been designated an official United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Facility.
“For us to bring tennis back to this part of the country, to this wonderful facility here, has been exciting,” he said. “We’ve talked exclusively with Lisa Hilborn, the director of programming here, and Karen Korb, a former Paralympic athlete and a member of the staff here. We’ve talked about reinvigorating our relationship. At the United States Tennis Association, we’re always looking for facilities and groups of people who are willing to help us do what we do.”
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