May 2017 -- I decided to start playing tennis to get active and lose weight,” says Carol Janssens, as she walks across the tennis court. Carol, a Navy veteran of 21 years, has just finished an hour-long tennis lesson with fellow veterans at East Potomac Tennis Center in Washington, D.C. “But I keep coming back for the awesome instructors – they are the best.”
Every Friday afternoon, Carol attends a Veterans Adaptive Tennis Clinic run by military non-profit ThanksUSA and Tennis Thanks the Troops. Carol voluntarily joined the Navy during the Vietnam War, at a time when the war was unpopular and being a woman in the military was difficult.
The idea for the clinic emerged as a way to give back to veterans like Carol by offering an activity that could serve as rehabilitation, as well as a healthy and fun way to stay active and socialize. The result has proven more of a success than instructors and volunteers imagined; the original participants show up week after week.
Instructor Brenda Gilmore, PTR Adaptive Tennis Certified, and her assistant Gwen “Breezy” Gilbert teach the clinic. Brenda says: “It’s been quite rewarding for me to see not only the progress of the participants but to see how they enjoy each other’s company as much as they do learning to play tennis. I think this is truly one of the highlights of their week!” If the veterans aren’t joking with each other during drills, they are battling it out in friendly competitions with the volunteers and therapists from the VA who participate alongside them. The group as a whole has come to share a bond and a passion for tennis – with some players honing skills they picked up playing in their youth, and some picking up a racquet for the first time.
The veterans have a goal in mind as they practice – a chance to show off their talent at the Tennis Thanks the Troops All-American Family Day Bash at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md. The annual Memorial Day tournament is a fundraiser for Thanks-USA, in conjunction with the USTA Mid-Atlantic, and the adaptive clinic will be one of the highlights.
ThanksUSA relies on donations and sponsors to hold the adaptive tennis clinic, including grants from the USPTA Foundation and USTA Foundation.
The success of the program has inspired plans for additional locations throughout the country. In January, Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla., hosted a clinic, with interest for future clinics in Naples, Texas and Virginia Beach. ThanksUSA hopes that the veterans who attend the clinic will not only enjoy themselves, but feel the appreciation the country has for their years of service and sacrifice.
The very first ThanksUSA Veterans Adaptive Tennis Clinic was held at the Montgomery TennisPlex in Boyds, Md., in July 2016. See here for local coverage – wjla.com/news/local/thanks-usa-holds-tennis-clinic-to-help-disabled-veterans.