New dawn for wheelchair tennis in Abbotsford

BC Wheelchair Sports has begun a regular wheelchair tennis session, with the first taking place Jan. 24.

Provincial head coach Steve Manley oversees tennis drills. Clockwise from bottom right: Jessica Kruger

Provincial head coach Steve Manley oversees tennis drills. Clockwise from bottom right: Jessica Kruger

In wheelchair tennis, one extra bounce of the ball is all you get – and, in many cases, need.

That extra bounce of the ball is the only concession made to the different means of mobility in wheelchair tennis. But on a recent demonstration day at the Great West Fitness and Tennis Centre, it was enough to entice rugby and basketball players to the hard court for a workout that can be just as intense as the famously aerobic-demanding traditional game of tennis.

The “Have a Go” event was inspired by the work of community tennis coach Anthony Iliev, who began coaching wheelchair athletes several years ago at the MEI tennis courts.

Now, BC Wheelchair Sports has begun a regular wheelchair tennis session, with the first taking place Jan. 24.

The secret of traditional tennis is not the hitting of the perfect shot – it’s getting in position to hit the ball in the first place. Being in a wheelchair adds to that challenge – and makes a well-played rally even more impressive.

“It’s all about the mobility,” Iliev said. “The upper part is sort of the same, but the mobility is definitely more challenging.”

B.C. recently won the right to host the 2015 and 2016 national wheelchair tennis championships, and BC Wheelchair Sports Association program manager Holly Tawes is especially interested in boosting participation at the junior levels.

“Right now B.C. is one of the most developed provinces for wheelchair tennis in Canada,” Tawes said. “We have programs in Kelowna, Kamloops, all the way in Victoria … We have a league too which is that next step to competition format, and we also host and run two International Tennis Federation (ITF) wheelchair tennis tournaments.”

One of Iliev’s students, Ben Garrett, took a hiatus from tennis to pursue competitive wheelchair basketball. Garrett, though, said tennis continues  to be valuable cross-training, and said a regular program would be an asset in Abbotsford.

Jessica Kruger, another wheelchair rugby athlete, was among the half-dozen participants at the “Have a Go” event, swinging her racket gamely despite the transition to a very different sport.

“I really believe in what BC Wheelchair Sports does, and what they’ve done for me,” said Kruger. “I had the opportunity to work for them over the summer and I loved the job. I love the way they get people  involved again after an accident. I’m happy to do whatever I can to support that.”