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Gamecock players learn appreciation for wheelchair tennis

April 15, 2015 10:04 AM

Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Thomas Mayronne is one of the fastest Gamecock tennis players, and Nick Burnham uses a wheelchair to play. But Friday evening, the talk was pure strategy.

As the University of South Carolina men’s tennis practice ended, Mayronne and Burnham gathered at the baseline of a court and discussed strategy.

Mayronne asked if wheelchair doubles teams typically play one player closer to the net and one player at the baseline, similar to many able-bodied teams. No, Burnham said, wheelchair teams usually play both players further back so they can return higher-bouncing balls.

“It was awesome just to be out there with them and talk to them about different strategies, how they play, how we play,” said Mayronne, who plays No. 6 for the Gamecocks. “We love the same sport.”

Men's assistant coach Ryan Young, men's player Thomas Mayronne and Nick Burnham discuss strategy at "Wheelchair Tennis Day" on Friday. (USTA SC photo)

The players were on court together as part of “Wheelchair Tennis Day,” an event co-hosted by the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina office of the U.S. Tennis Association to promote wheelchair tennis.

Five wheelchair players from across the state hit around and talked with players and coaches from the Gamecock men’s tennis team for about an hour Friday. The wheelchair players also posed for a photo with the team, received shirts and were recognized before the Gamecock women’s tennis match Friday evening.

“What an experience for our guys,” said Josh Goffi, South Carolina men’s tennis coach, who also hit with the wheelchair players and even tried playing in a chair. “There was a lot of respect for the guys in the chairs today.”

The camaraderie shared between the Gamecocks and the wheelchair athletes was exactly what Martha Childress had in mind when she and the University of South Carolina approached USTA South Carolina about hosting the event.

In October 2013, Childress was shot and paralyzed by a stray bullet in Five Points. She now uses a wheelchair and plays tennis.

Some people have a misperception of what wheelchair athletes can do, said Childress, who is an intern with the University of South Carolina Athletics Department. Other people know little about wheelchair athletes.


“I just wanted to show the tennis team, just give everyone an idea of what wheelchair tennis is,” said Childress, a sophomore at South Carolina. “It was so great to see them play and see how well the players and coaches interacted with them and how interested they were in learning about wheelchair tennis.”

The wheelchair players also appreciated the opportunity. Able-bodied players can feel motivated to take advantage of the physical gifts they have after working with wheelchair athletes, Burnham said.

He was injured during a work accident in 2008. Burnham was standing on the side of a dump truck when a log fell on top of him. The log broke his back and inflicted other damage, including rupturing his diaphragm and collapsing a lung.

He played other sports, including adaptive wakeboarding, hand cycling and water skiing. But he ultimately decided tennis was his favorite. “I liked the individual competition that tennis involved,” said Burnham, who’s been playing tennis for five years.

Now Burnham, 33 and living in Charlotte, plays three times a week at the Rock Hill Tennis Center. He also travels the country playing in tournaments.

On Friday, he rallied with some new very new wheelchair players, including Mayronne, who tried to use a chair and play tennis. Mayronne finished the experience even more impressed with his peers who use wheelchairs.

“It’s crazy how strong their upper body is,” Mayronne said. “(I have) just so much respect for what they can do.”

Thomas Mayronne, left, and Taylor Wingate trade spots at Wheelchair Tennis Day at the University of South Carolina. (USTA SC photo)


On the far court from left to right, Cole Wooten and Taylor Wingate play Andrew Adams, in the red, and Sam Swank of the Gamecock men's tennis team on Friday. (USTA SC photo)


From left to right, Larry Keeter, Cole Wooten and Gamecock men's tennis player Andrew Adams hang out during Wheelchair Tennis Day. (USTA SC photo)


David Rogers and Gabriel Friedrich play during Wheelchair Tennis Day on Friday. (USTA SC photo)



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