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Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Canada Makes Its Mark In Wheelchair Tennis

Jun 02, 2007 04:30 AM
Helen Henderson

Wheelchair tennis wants you.

It's one of the fastest growing sports in the country, says 23-year-old Joel Dembe, a passionate competitor and promoter of the game. Wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey may be in the limelight, but Dembe, a Brock University sport management graduate, is spending the summer at Tennis Canada's Toronto headquarters spreading the word and gaining converts for the sport that stole his heart at age 14.

Playing from a specially cambered chair he propels manually, Dembe takes on everyone - from fellow paraplegics and quadriplegics with upper arm mobility, to able-bodied players helping to raise funds so more kids across the province can get involved. Among Ontario players, he's ranked fifth in doubles, sixth in singles.

The rules of his game are exactly the same as any tennis match, Dembe says - except wheelchair players are allowed two bounces of the ball. Manoeuvring the chair while swinging the racquet takes strength and skill. "It really works your back and shoulders."

Players find all sorts of ways to get the racquet and ball in action, says Michael Suraci, executive director of the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association. Some use duct tape to strengthen their grip, others toss the ball with a foot before acing a serve.

Anyone heading for the high-powered competitive level will need a special chair, ringing in at $4,000 to $5,000. Membership and court fees at tonier clubs can also mount up. But none of this is necessary for recreational players, who get in the game for exercise and camaraderie - year-round, indoors and out.

The Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association lends cambered chairs for about $20 a month.

"High-performance players like Joel, have to be quick and tough," says Dembe's coach Doug Carter, of the Niagara Academy of Tennis in Vineland. "But players can be a success at a variety of levels."

From Europe to Japan, Canadian paraplegic and quadriplegic players are rolling with the best.

At last month's International Tennis Federation super series in Fukuoka, Japan, Sarah Hunter of White Rock, B.C., reached the finals in quad singles and doubles. That made her the fourth-ranked quad player in the world. This month, she and her Canadian teammates head to the 2007 World Team Cup in Stockholm.

In Canada, there are more than 20 wheelchair tennis tournaments a year, including national and regional championships, along with divisional events for men, women, juniors and quads. Keep an eye out for a wheelchair tennis instructor certification course June 17 at the Rexall Centre, at York University, and the Capital City Classic Wheelchair Tennis Competition in Ottawa June 21 to 24.

Taken from

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