I have a confession to make. I pretended to be a wheelchair jock for a decade. And because reporters were so busy writing inspirational stories about me, I never got found out.
Part of playing wheelchair tennis was giving interviews to newspaper reporters. Sometimes my coach arranged them because we needed funding. Other times they were part of an event I was playing at or competing in.
It always went the same. I sat by the side of the tennis net, trying to tighten the duct tape around my tennis racket to my arm with my teeth while a person standing outside the fence surrounding the court waved at me and yelled "Hi! I'm the reporter from ---".
I remember shrugging and perhaps even sighing. My experiences with reporters who interviewed me about wheelchair tennis usually went something like this: they would ask questions such as how I wound up in a wheelchair and what my disability was. Then they would watch me play for a while, take a few pictures and leave. Nine out of ten times none of them asked me anything else. It was as if they were filling out a form entitled : inspirational wheelchair athlete article.
At first I was naive and went along with this. But then I caught on, after reading a few of the articles that were written that were so formulaic. I decided that I'd try to insert some real information about who I was into the interviews. Mostly it seemed to confound and dismay the reporters. If my coach was around, she would go along with it and it became like a comedy routine. Afterwards I'd always ask "Think they 'll use any of it?" to which my coach would reply "Probably not, but we tried."
There was no way, it seemed, to get across the real story which was that I played wheelchair tennis as a weekend warrior, competing at tournaments during the spring and summer for short two or three day trips, while working. The reporters didn't want to hear about my other life - the real job I had and all the other things I did with my life.
Such mundane facts seemed to put them on overload. One reporter put his pen behind his ear and just stopped writing. Another held up her hand and asked "Do you all play tennis or do you have a job? Which is it?" as if I couldn't do both. The resistance to any real facts or information was pretty strong.
Somehow no reporter ever managed to write a story about who I was over the decade I gave interviews. I guess that story just wasn't inspirational enough.
You see, I'm not really a wheelchair jock. I practically flunked gym in school. The only reason I have a wall of trophies for wheelchair tennis is because after my hands were paralyzed and I couldn't play classical guitar any more I got so mad I duct taped a racket on and started hitting tennis balls around one day. A coach saw me. He mistook my anger for athletic aspiration and set me up with lessons. And the next thing I knew I found myself competing in a tennis tournament.
That's the real story.
Oh, except for one thing. I managed to win a cross country skiing event too one year. How did that happen?
Don't even ask .But there is an article about it somewhere. And you can bet it was very inspirational.