A year ago, Brittany Barrett was just starting to cope with her new affliction — paralysis from the waist down — by taking up wheelchair tennis.
She became paralyzed in June 2007, and doctors have not yet figured out why. She struggled at first while taking up tennis only a few months later. As one of most dedicated, hard-working players on the court, she has come a long way since that time. Now an inspiration to those around her, Brittany has embarked on a journey that hasn't been without obstacles.
Brittany, 17, has been on a roll of late. In April, she was successful in three tournaments and is hoping to continue that with a spot on the European Wheelchair Tour after only 19 months since she started competing.
"I am extremely surprised at how well she's doing," Brittany's mother, Michelle Barrett, said. "She's so positive and so focused on what she wants to do."
At the Florida Wheelchair Open in Boca Raton on April 12, Brittany had tremendous success at three levels. In the junior singles division she was a finalist, coming away with a silver medal. In the women's A singles division, she went undefeated through the consolation bracket for a gold medal. Finally, in the women's A doubles division, she and partner, Auburn Smith, reached the semifinals before falling.
The following weekend, Brittany went to the Pensacola Wheelchair Open, but because of a lack of available divisions, she and partner, Steve Riley, entered the men's C doubles division and faced off with male opponents.
Brittany and Riley took first place overall, and she also made the quarterfinals in the C singles division.
"After (matches like that), I feel like I can't believe it," Brittany said. "You usually just don't beat guys."
Her last tournament of the month took place a couple weekends ago in Altamonte Springs. The Junior Team Tennis program, run by Louise and John Downey, was participating, with Brittany as a key member. She was also the only wheelchair player against a field of able-bodied opponents. She had mixed success.
Early in the season, she was a member of the Nature Coast Technical High tennis program that qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history. She played 10 matches for the Sharks, though she still had issues dealing with lobs over her head in her wheelchair.
"Facing able-bodies helps me see what I do need to work on," Brittany said. "You have do exercises to improve. It is helping me to improve my game."
Her focus has shifted to wheelchair competition exclusively, and on the advice she has received at numerous tournaments, she is looking for spots on the European Wheelchair Tour and French Wheelchair Tour. However, such an endeavor takes a great deal of funds, something she lacks. Because of this, she and her mother have begun inquiring about sponsorship and fundraising.
"First, we need to look at getting her the money to get her over there," Michelle Barrett said. "I have all of the information to register her, and we know she's eligible to play."
Brittany has also made it clear she has her sights on the 2012 Paralympics Games, though a year ago it was too soon to tell if such a goal was too lofty.
That really doesn't seem unrealistic anymore.
"I am working my hardest to get there," Brittany said. "I feel really good, like I am going to reach that goal."
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