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Service on wheels

Photo by Bruce FerrisNo. 1 seed Robinson Mendez of Chile reaches to hit a ball during last year's Tahoe Donner International Wheelchair Championship
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Bonni Sue Hickson knows wheelchair tennis, and she wants others in her community to as well.

“Once you see wheelchair tennis you can’t stop watching it,” Hickson said of this weekend’s 20th Annual Tahoe Donner International Wheelchair Tennis Sectional Championship. “It takes the game to another level.”

Hickson, a 26-year Truckee resident, was diagnosed at the age of 20 with multiple sclerosis. She discovered wheelchair tennis in 1984 and took to the sport quickly. Two years later she organized the first Tahoe Donner International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, as it was named at the time.



“That started them all,” Hickson said of the first event, which blossomed into an annual tournament that is now one of more than 100 on the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour.




“Back then,” she recalled, “it was so new that there was that element of, ‘what in the world is wheelchair tennis?'”

Now “56 years young,” Hickson’s days of competing from the seat of her wheelchair ” from 1986 to 1991 ” have long since past. But her role as tournament director keeps her more involved than anyone.

“It’s awesome being director and a past player because you know what (the athletes) expect in a good tournament,” Hickson said.

One thing the athletes can count on at the event is a great venue.

“This is one of my favorite tournaments,” said Yuka Chokyu, a Japanese Canadian wheelchair tennis player who estimates competing in at least five of the sectional championships held at Tahoe Donner. “It’s always so relaxing in the mountains. The courts are surrounded by trees and the people are always nice.”

Chokyu, who flew into Reno on Wednesday and is staying at the Inn at Truckee, noted that although the tournament is one of the smaller ones on the tour, the level of competition is high. Because she lives near sea level in Vancouver, British Columbia, Chokyu said she always arrives in Truckee about two days prior to the event in order to acclimate to the 6,000-foot rise in elevation.

“When I play I feel (the elevation),” Chokyu said. “I’ll get short of breath and a slight headache.”

Even when she spends a couple days in town before a tournament, Chokyu said she still gets minor headaches. But it’s not enough to keep her away.

Tournament play lasts Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Semi-finals are scheduled all day Saturday, with finals on Sunday. Also on Sunday is the community up/down doubles competition, which combines a wheelchair athlete with an able-bodied player.

The Truckee High School girls tennis team will serve as “ball personnel,” otherwise known as shaggers. Four team members will be assigned to a match, Hickson said, with two on the net and two in the back.

“It’s all about timing and anticipation,” Hickson said of the duty. “It really helps the flow of the game.”

Hickson said 38 athletes ” about 60 percent of whom are from the United States and the rest from Canada, Israel, Japan, France, South Korea, Germany and Chile ” will be competing in the tournament for $8,000 in prize money.

Wheelchair tennis follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis, only players are allowed two bounces instead of one.

Considered among the most challenging adaptive sports, wheelchair tennis originated in 1976 and has remained one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports. In response to its growing popularity, the International Wheelchair Tennis Federation (IWTF) was created in 1988 to promote, govern and develope the sport around the globe. The initial eight founding member nations have since been joined by more than 50 countries.

The NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour originated in 1992, and the sport was integrated into the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 1998.

The NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour, which has grown from 11 international tournaments to 114 tournaments played in 27 different countries, consists of four Super Series events, which are equivelant of able-bodied Grand Slam tournaments. The tour also has seven Masters Series events and 101 events classified from ITF 1, 2 and 3 to ITF Future Series.

The year-end No. 1 man and woman are honored as the ITF Wheelchair Tennis World Champions.

Source of information: International Tennis Federation.


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