Annual tennis event comes to town |

Annual tennis event comes to town

Whirling dervishes are musical pieces performed during the religious ceremonies of various Muslim religious groups. The compositions are often very long, using an array of chants and instrumentation to gradually engulf the listener and performer in a twirling, cyclical sound. It’s regarded by many ethnomusicologists as one of the world’s most graceful musics.

While waxing poetic, Bonni Sue Hickson, the director of the 14th annual Wheelchair Tennis Championship in Truckee – held this weekend as part of the NEC International Wheelchair Tennis Tour at the Tahoe Donner tennis courts – described the sport as “whirling dervishes on wheels.”

“If you enjoyed the U.S. Open,” Hickson said, “you will appreciate a whole other level watching wheelchair tennis. The power of the stroke and the grace of the action of the world class players is phenomenal.”

In addition to the achievements of the world class players, Hickson explained that every player, whatever level, had withstood the “gauntlet” that catastrophic change presents.

“It’s two sports in one,” Hickson said. “The first sport is learning to maneuver the wheelchair and the second is the art of tennis.”

Compounding the challenge is the fact that sometimes it takes extensive physical therapy for the players to adjust to holding the racquet, tossing the ball and various other aspects of the game.

Additionally, there is the emotional struggle.

“Wheelchair tennis is a very healing metaphor,” Hickson said. “Two bounces is the only difference between wheelchair tennis and able body tennis. If there are accessible pathways to get to the courts – and bathrooms – then you’re in the game.”

“You can play with anybody,” added Patty Rollison, a member of the Truckee-Reno-Sparks team. “You can play with able-bodies, young, old, against a wall. Other wheelchair sports you have to get a person in a chair to play or else you have to get a team.”

Several of the participants in the event cited the camaraderie of the tennis circuit as one of the major benefits.

“If you can imagine just playing recreational tennis, skiing or whatever other sports we have in the area – or any endeavor from work to play – and suddenly having an accident or being diagnosed with an illness,” Hickson said, “you’re just closed down. People go through the grief. Then to know that in your own backyard there are those who’ve gone through the rehab. You have to see people that are happy … it’s hard. You need to see those people so that you can rise to your higher self. It’s about healthy transitions, and tennis just happens to be one of them.”

“I was really shy,” said Rollison. “Wheelchair tennis opened me up. I had a phobia of traveling, then that broke. I started traveling to Sacramento for tournaments and some other places. Now I can go around the world. I have so many friends, mostly on the circuit, from around the world.”

There were 79 participants representing 10 different countries in this year’s Tahoe Donner event.

The event was a full spectrum tournament, accommodating everyone from those just discharged from a rehabilitation hospital to world class athletes. The participants ranged in age from 16-84 years old.

The equipment

In wheelchair tennis, the players use custom made chairs with cambered wheels that allow for quick turning and pivoting. Designed for efficiency and proficiency, the tilted wheels also allow the players to reach for shots without falling. Another feature that allows the players to reach is the fourth wheel extension, or tongue, which is a bar that extends in front of the chair to support forward stretches.

“The wheelchairs are made for their bodies,” Hickson said. “They are so customized that the wheelchair becomes one with the body.”


The 14th annual Wheelchair tennis Championship in Truckee is the last stop on the NEC tour before the 20th US Open Wheelchair Championship in San Diego, Calif.

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