EUGENE, Ore. – Studies conducted by the University of California showed about 6.8 million Americans use some sort of assitance device used for mobility. But for a lot of people including a group of friends in Eugene, they don't let their physical challenges handicap them.
"It's nice to get out and having an outlet. Just burn off some steam," said Curt Nibler. "You know without that things can get kind of frustrating. So you want to get out and just have a little competition. And go face to face with your opponents and make something happen."
Over the last couple of years, about seven or eight people have gathered at the Sheldon tennis courts to play the sport and compete among their friends.
Nibler said, "It's good to get out and bang around some balls with some of the boys. But I've played basketball with these guys and rugby with these guys for the last twenty years, so it's just coming out with old friends and getting in some good active exercise and knocking some balls around."
There is not much of a difference rule wise in playing tennis in a wheelchair or on your legs. The group uses the National Wheelchair Tennis Association rules that permits the ball to bounce twice, but will modify them more depending on the level of competition.
"You have to kind of look at, as I said the degree of disability of the chair player," said Jim Craft. "Because I've got a lot more mobility than some of the other players. I'm faster, I can use my hands, rub my wheels. Some of the guys are taping their racket to their hands because they can't grip it. So it makes it harder for them to push the chairs. So if I'm playing against a quad or a para I might only get two bounces and they're going to get three bounces."
Some members of the group even have a special chair, made strictly for playing tennis.
"It's a wider cambered so the tires go out farther, than a regular chair," said Adam Huizenga. "And it has what we call an anti-tip wheel in the back so you don't actually fall back when you push forward and allows you a little more flexibility when you move around you're able to kind of do tighter turns and just kind of a bit more flexibility to move around the court."
Other than the equipment, they said the key to playing wheelchair tennis is being able to keep up on the court.
"Speed and quickness. You know turning to go after a ball, getting to the ball, I think that's probably essential," said Craft. "Hitting the ball really hard is not really essential. Placing the ball is essential, because you know if you put it in the corner where somebody can't get it that's much better than trying to do an overhand smash. And some of these guys can't do that I can't do that, not because I can't do that, it's just I can't do that."
Mark Hansen added, "If you see the ball bounce over there then your first couple of pushes have to be really hard to build up speed. And then you can coast into the ball and concentrate more on hitting the ball, but you need to get your speed up so that you can get that momentum, so you don't have to be at the last minute making an adjustment."
But rather than focusing on their physical challenges, the message the group wants to send is unity.
"It doesn't have to be all wheelchair players," said Hansen. "We can easily mix in able body players. We call it one up one down. So one standing, and one rolling. But that works out really well as you can see. Families can play it just whoever."
Craft said, "This way we can also keep the younger generation who are having physical problems involved and it's been real good for us to be able to deal with them on that basis. So that's really the emphasis of us being involved with this, to get the young people involved."
The group plays every Saturday, from May to October as long as the weather permits.
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