After perusing the latest news coming from the London Paralympics, I came across a story about Dutch athlete, Esther Vergeer. She is a wheelchair tennis player who will be playing in the Semi-finals today against another Dutch tennis player. She recently extended her unbeaten record to 468 matches, and has been ranked No. 1 for 13 years. I don’t care if you are or aren’t able-bodied, an unbeaten streak that long is amazing nonetheless.
Here’s a snippet from the AP article:
(AP) LONDON – After more than 13 years at No. 1 in the wheelchair tennis rankings and going unbeaten since 2003 with 465 consecutive victories, Esther Vergeer entered the London Paralympics with a solid argument for being the most dominant athlete within a single sport.
The 31-year-old Dutchwoman extended that run to 468 matches with a 6-1, 6-0 win against Thailand’s Sakhorn Khanthasit in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
It is widely believed that only Pakistani squash great Jahangir Khan has had a longer run of consecutive wins — 555 — but that was across five years, from 1981-86. Vergeer’s run has taken more than nine years.
Vergeer became paralyzed after having an operation to repair a hemorrhage in her spinal cord when she was 8 years old. Seeing all these athletes compete in the Paralympics, some forget that some of these athletes have had their conditions since they were children. I’m sure Vergeer has received physical therapy along the way to help her get to the physical level she is at now.
Physical therapy for any patient with paraplegia is not only about focusing on the physical aspects of improving their function as much as possible, it also involves working with the emotions that come along with the sudden realization that someone may not walk again. It’s hard enough to tell parents that their child may never walk because of whatever physical condition they have, it’s even harder to tell that to a child and their parents after that person has been walking just fine until some accident.
Here is a link to Vergeer’s wikipedia which discusses how tennis was not her first sport and that she actually played wheelchair basketball first!
Want to know more about wheelchair tennis? (from the London Paralympics site)
Wheelchair Tennis was invented in 1976 by Brad Parks, who had been experimenting with tennis as a recreational therapy after he was injured in a freestyle skiing competition.
Since these humble beginnings, the sport has grown at an amazing rate: now fully integrated into all four Grand Slam Tennis events, and with more than 170 tournaments on the ITF’s own Wheelchair Tennis Tour, it is more popular than ever.