Years ago when we were picking a name for our wheelchair tennis team, my friend Cory suggested we call ourselves "the Misfits". Janet and I laughed, but the name was chucked in the end. I think people were afraid of what it would look like on team jackets. (Although this would be a cute logo.)
Cory hasn't been able to play wheelchair tennis for a number of years due to injuries and this year I'm sidelined too. As quads, neither of us can play without finding a way to attach a tennis racket. He went through a series of braces and devices that worked and broke, worked and broke while I've chosen to tape it on. This results in some pretty funny situations at times, such as forgetting it's taped on and reaching up only to knock over objects - or conk people in the head. I really don't think it would be much fun to be around a quad who doesn't have a sense of humor.
My attitude toward wheelchair tennis has always been that I'm grateful when I can play it. I enjoy the sport and admire the folks who play it the best. Although I've worked very hard over the years , I know that when I beat a paraplegic player that might be the only victory I get because I can't afford to travel nationally to tournaments to play other quads nor does my day job allow me to train the way some players do. Keeping a sense of perspective about all of it has been a lesson to me over the years.
I couldn't possibly write in a small space like this what I've learned from playing wheelchair tennis. It's taught me about hanging in there, being a team member, confidence, and at times has forced me to confront a few character flaws, all to my improvement. I've rolled across Arthur Ashe stadium, received trophies that range from spectacular tall ones to a beautiful glass engraved mug done by Wilson Pipkins' hand during his alleged "free time" (when is that, Wilson? and which do you think I preferred?) , taught kids a few tennis tips, watched friends win, lose, tie and even saw one match called because someone wanted to go to a Phillies game instead.
I've also met wonderful folks over the years, some of whom have left us. George and Barbara McFadden, Anita, Cindy Burchfield, Scott, Howie, and others made the tournaments and the fellowship I found there a place of grace in a world that can be tough to navigate. Thinking about them still makes me smile. I miss them greatly.
Wheelchair tennis has changed over the years. After the USTA came in, our sport became more organized. For a taped up quad it can be hard to follow some of the rules which provide seconds to get ready or recuperate in a body that overheats easily. But that doesn't matter because there are special quad exceptions - and the best and better players rise to the top. The sport is much more professional for it.
However, I'll admit, I miss the days where no official yelled at me when I took too long taping up or when I had time to laugh on a cross over between plays rather than watching a clock to make sure I stayed within a 20 second rule. Heck, I know I'm a quad even though I couldn't afford to fly where I needed to go to get certified as one - a new requirement because some folks wanted to win so much that they feigned "quaddiness". I know a cheap way to figure out who is really a quad - watch them try to follow the timing rules imposed by USTA officials, some of whom don't even know what a "quad" is and impose the same requirements on quads as paraplegics.
Now if I only had a misfit jacket....
[visual description: A wall hanging shows the 'misfit toys' from Santa's land with a sign that reads 'All Misfit Toys Welcome Here']