That’s Just How We Roll: The UA’s Adaptive Athletics ChampionsPosted on: May 17, 2011 in People & Places
It’s early on a Thursday morning in May. The Tucson sun has risen bright and warm, and Bryan Barten, coach of the UA’s Adaptive Athletics tennis and rugby teams, and Kaitlyn Verfuerth, a junior psychology major, have come to the UA’s Robson Tennis Center to hit a few balls. As they move around the court crashing through shot after shot, the Tucson sun and the exertion equally contribute to the warming of their muscles and the quickening of their pace.
Of course, part of what makes this early morning warm-up so impressive to watch is that coach and player—both extremely accomplished athletes—are in wheelchairs.
“Even if you hit it twenty percent harder, it will spin in,” Barten calls as Verfuerth nails another forehand. “Yeah, that’s it.”
Verfuerth plays using a special chair from Japan made of a high-performance grade of aluminum not available in the United States. It has an odometer so she can track how far and how fast she travels during matches and workouts. She sprints at speeds of up to 14 miles per hour and stops and spins on a dime.
Verfuerth, along with Barten, are just starting to settle back into the pace of life in Tucson after a trip to Pretoria, South Africa where they took part in the World Team Cup, a competition second only to the Paralympics in the world of wheelchair tennis. Both athletes, along with UA honors speech, language and hearing sciences sophomore Dana Mathewson, were selected for the National Wheelchair Tennis Team to play in the tournament. The USTA (United States Tennis Association) picked up the bill for all of the players to travel and compete, and more than 200 athletes from thirty nations took part.
While Verfuerth and Mathewson didn’t come away winners this time around, the U.S. quad wheelchair team—Nick Taylor of Kansas, David Wagner of Oregon, and the UA’s Bryan Barten—took the 2011 World Team Cup title, defeating Israel 2-1 in the final. It was the team’s seventh World Team Cup crown.
As a Division I school of the NCAA, the University of Arizona offers athletic opportunities to all students—including disabled students. Through its Adaptive Athletics program, the UA’s Disability Resource Center offers not just competitive tennis, but also wheelchair track, quad rugby, wheelchair basketball and goalball, a sport for the blind and visually impaired.
“This is the only place where you can come and play collegiate tennis at this level on a team,” says Barten. “We have staff, scholarships and academic requirements, just like other NCAA sports teams.” And the UA holds its disabled athletes to the same exacting standards as their able-bodied counterparts.
“Our teams and events bring together students and community members in the best athletic and recreational facilities available on any campus today,” says Derek Brown, head coach for the wheelchair basketball and track teams.
It’s a far cry from where the program began over 30 years ago with a small budget for wheelchair basketball. Today, with funding provided by the UA Foundation, generous donors like Tucson entrepreneur Jim Click, and various community fundraising events like the Run’N’Roll and the Red-Blue Wheelchair Basketball Competition, these teams and programs thrive, giving unmatched opportunity to athletes like Mathewson, Verfuerth and Coach Barten.
“I started playing tennis in high school when I was 14 years old. It was just a way for me to play with my friends,” says Verfuerth, grinning into the sun. “Now, I get to travel the world and I’ve gotten to represent my country and two Paralympic games. I’m honored and proud.”