April 2017 -- Andre Agassi once said, “Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, l love – the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.” Those who are passionate about the game of tennis know the feeling Agassi was describing. It has a way of inspiring players from all walks of life, and reaches far beyond the physical benefits.
On January 13 in Orlando, Fla., veterans had the chance to experience this for themselves. They participated in a Veterans Adaptive Tennis Clinic at Isleworth Golf and Country Club under the leadership of Len Simard, Isleworth Director of Tennis and USPTA Master Professional, and Tennis Thanks the Troops Ambassadors and USPTA Florida Tennis Professionals Mike Dombrowski and Tweet Coleman. The clinic was hosted by ThanksUSA, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to military families with the help of generous USTA and USPTA Foundations grants and volunteers. Veterans from the nearby Orlando VA Medical Center took part.
The adaptive clinic was coached by 2015 PTR Maryland Member of the Year Brenda Gilmore, a tennis player who can attest to the advantages the sport can offer. At the age of 27, Brenda was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Now teaching and competing from a wheelchair, she motivates and encourages players across all physical circumstances and skill levels – a constantly smiling example of Agassi’s “language of life” through tennis.
Tennis built Brenda’s self-esteem and confidence, and now Brenda wants to do the same for our veterans – “Wounded warriors have given so much to my freedom in the United States, it’s the least that I could possibly do,” she says.
Those that participated in the adaptive clinic, as well as a Pro-Am for Isleworth members and Central Florida tennis enthusiasts, also had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with guest speaker General Ann Dunwoody, 2011 recipient of the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award for tennis and 2012 recipient of the Intercollegiate Tennis Associations Award. General Dunwoody shared her enthusiasm for tennis, as well as her inspirational story of becoming the Army’s first female four-star general. Now retired, she captures the essence of goodwill and service through her participation in charity events and support for ThanksUSA’s mission as a board member.
Also in attendance was ThanksUSA/Sergeant Matthew Thomas scholarship recipient and beneficiary of USPTA Florida’s 2016 Tennis Thanks the Troops fundraising event at the Orlando Grand Cypress, Shae Corey. Shae’s scholarship allows her to pursue her studies at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. The scholarship is named after fallen solider Sergeant Matthew Thomas. Matthew’s mother Sonya volunteered at and attended the event at Isleworth in support of Shae, with whom she has formed a special bond. Sonya has nicknamed Shae “little dove” to symbolize how her education will enable her to spread her wings and fly, while keeping her son’s spirit alive.
Whether you are a superstar playing in a grand slam, or a wounded veteran fighting through physical and mental wounds, tennis has the power to challenge and frustrate you, while motivating and inspiring you to improve on and off the court. Remarkable women like Brenda Gilmore and General Dunwoody are examples of how passion for the sport can be used to improve the lives of others, and supporters like the USPTA and USTA, in conjunction with the USPTA and USTA Foundations, make it possible to do so. For more information, visit www.ThanksUSA.org.