Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando teen plays tennis in a wheelchair

BROOKSVILLE

When talking to Brittany Bennett, it would be tough to believe that the 16-year-old former track star and cheerleading captain suffered tragic paralysis.

Less than a year ago in July 2007, Bennett woke up one morning and was going through sudden spells of unconsciousness throughout the day. The following morning, she slipped into another spell and awoke paralyzed from the neck down.

Since then, doctors have not been able to provide answers to why this happened or to why she is still paralyzed from the thighs down. Those same doctors also had said the paralysis would be temporary and be gone after six months.

"It's been so hard," Michelle Bennett, Brittany's single mother of four, said, "but they've all been so supportive of Brittany, and they've never complained once."

Eleven months later, Brittany, 16, has coped better than anyone expected. After a short bout with depression, she stumbled across a solution to her problems, both physical and psychological. That solution: tennis.

While watching her sister, Chelsea, 13, in a class with instructors Louise and John Downey, Brittany picked up a racquet for the first time. Once she hit a ball over the net, something inside of her just clicked.

"I had been thinking for months that my world had stopped, and that I couldn't do anything anymore," Brittany said. "I couldn't believe I could (hit the ball like that), and once I did, I felt like I can do anything I want to do."

Brittany now plays tennis regularly, balancing it with her schoolwork, physical therapy sessions and frequent doctor visits. Her excitement for the sport has spurred new goals, like wanting to play in the 2012 Paralympics Games, and pushed her to want her old goals even more, like becoming a pediatrician when she gets older.

During a No Limit Sports event sponsored by Shriners Hospital in Tampa a of couple months ago, Brittany was able to meet Karen Korb, a member of the U.S. Paralympics Tennis Team. After taking a seat in Korb's specially-modeled tennis wheelchair, Bennett was even more motivated.

"She's learned the game in such a rapid fashion," John Downey said. "Knowing Brittany, once she sets her mind to something, nothing's going to stop her."

Brittany was just approved for a grant for a custom, tennis wheelchair from the Make A Difference Foundation in Clearwater, which strives to get sports equipment to disabled kids.

The chair should be in just in time for her next competitive tournament, a USTA Junior Team Tennis Tournament in Lakeland in July. The Downeys have pushed her to become more and more involved in the league, made up of mostly able-bodied competitors.

For Brittany, the opponent across the net is an obstacle to be surmounted. Whenever she has something to overcome, she always just tells herself her newest motto.

"Tough times never last, but tough people do," Brittany said.

Submit story ideas, feedback to communitysports@tampabay.com.

>>FAST FACTS

Brittany Bennett

Age: 16

Grade: Sophomore

Breaking through: Bennett became paralyzed in July 2007 and the cause is still unknown. After never before picking up a racquet, she took up tennis in October 2007 and is the only wheelchair tennis player in Hernando County.

In her future: Bennett plans on competing in her second competitive tournament next month in Lakeland. She hopes to be a pediatrician when she gets older as well as to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

For more on Brittany, see video at hernando.tampabay.com.

Hernando teen plays tennis in a wheelchair 05/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 9:51am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kids still playing for all the marbles — literally

    Human Interest

    In this world of pompous athletes, overbearing coaches, money-grubbing owners and a win-at-all-costs mindset, it's easy to become jaded.

    Eli Murphy, right, leans in to give Sierra Ricci the traditional king and queen kiss at the National Marbles Championship in Wildwood, N.J. Both of Allegheny County Pa., they won the girls and boys championship of the 94th annual National Marbles Tournament. [Associated Press]
  2. Lightning takes defenseman Cal Foote with top pick in draft

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Former Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote said his son Cal lived in the locker room.

    Cal Foote, second from left, is welcomed to the Lightning by GM Steve Yzerman, far left.
  3. It's Rays' turn to pound Orioles pitching (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG - Ah, the fantastic four.

    The Rays smashed the reeling Orioles 15-5 on Friday, scoring a season-high in runs, to climb four games above .500 for the first time since July 1, 2015.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria scores on a triple by Logan Morrison during the first inning against the Orioles.
  4. Lightning journal: Plans set for 25th anniversary season

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — The Lightning revealed some of its plans for its 25th anniversary season Friday, including a ceremony to honor the 2004 Stanley Cup team.

    fit test: Top draft pick Cal Foote puts on his Lightning jersey.
  5. Rays designate catcher Derek Norris for assignment

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — C Derek Norris tied a career-high with three hits in Friday's 15-5 win against the Orioles then was designated for assignment after the game to make room on the 25-man roster for C Wilson Ramos.

    Derek Norris, right, celebrates with Logan Morrison as he scores in what could be his last game with the Rays.