Wheel. Swing. Spin. Repeat. That's wheelchair tennis broken down. Taught by John and Louise Downey, the well-known local tennis pros, the class has been helping people in wheelchairs play tennis. And actually, it could be just as difficult, or tougher, as playing tennis upright.
"Playing in the chair is the same as any other tennis player, because they have to worry about getting to the ball, just in a chair," John Downey said. "It can be even more than people think."
Downey says many players correlate pushing the wheels to running. The trick to holding the racquet and wheeling with that hand is to hold the racquet at the end of the fingers and wheel with the palm of the hand, Downey said.
However, the one difference between regular tennis and using wheelchairs is that players are allowed two bounces before having to return the ball. "It's pretty much the same except for the bounces," Downey said. "You'll see just about everything else you will in any other match."
The Downeys, who train Brittany Barrett, a player on the Nature Coast Tech tennis team, went for wheelchair tennis training about six months ago in Hilton Head, S.C. That was after working with Barrett for nearly a year after her paralysis began in July 2007. Downey has about five players now and is always looking for new players who participate in competitive tournaments. There are even doubles teams.
To be eligible to compete, a player must have a medically diagnosed permanent immobile physical disability. It can be paralysis, amputation or even due to leg surgeries. Downey, who is in a chair because of surgery on both knees, is allowed to compete in doubles.
"They all take this game very seriously and they're good at it," Downey said. "I've faced a girl with spina bifida and couldn't beat her on my feet. They are world-class players, just in chairs."
For information on wheelchair tennis, call Downey (352) 666-0658 or visit www.louisedowney.usptapro.com.