Wheelchair tennis tournament draws players, passions

One man loved playing tennis throughout his life, but a motorcycle accident left him in doubt of ever having the chance to play again.

Brian McMillan, a 57-year-old wheelchair tennis player, was faced with a spinal chord injury 14 years ago.  He loved riding his Ducati motorcycle, but one day a speedy ride took a wrong turn that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“It’s what I refer to as the roulette wheel of hideous misfortune.  In other words, you never think it’s going to happen to you,” McMillan said.

Learning to advance the necessary muscle movements and lifestyle changes required to live in a wheelchair, he didn’t have time or even the vision of ever playing tennis again, he said.

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t play for the first 10 years,” he said.

After a decade of a paraplegic life, McMillan had fully adapted to the major changes he faced on a day-to-day basis.  He was ready to reveal his passions once again.

“I realized that i could still play tennis.  I could still hit a slice backhand and I could still hit a drop shot.  You could still play the game,” he said.

Competing on Saturday in the men’s wheelchair B doubles match of the Capital City Classic Wheelchair Tournament at Woods park, McMillan and other players exerted all their energy to prove what they were capable of.

McMillan played with Katie Garcia, also from Kansas, against Lincoln’s Lydell Oatley and Eric Kingery.

Each serve was smacked with full force.  Each backhanded slice was hit with flexed facial expressions and sweat dripping to the pavement of the tennis court.

For some time, McMillan and Garcia were down on the score against the Lincoln team, but eventually they regained focus and came out on top.

Katie Garcia played in the men’s match on Saturday because of the shortage of men, according to John Keller, 67, tournament referee.

Katie Garcia

She held her weight against men and took the winning title with McMillan.  Their winning set scores were 6-3 and 6-4.

The tournament follows rules set by the United States Tennis Association, Keller said. Luckily, subbing a woman in the game is permitted.

The main difference in the rules in wheelchair tennis is players get two bounces before hitting the ball instead of a single bounce.

Eric Kingery

The results of the tournament get more attention than the simple word-of-mouth brag in Lincoln.

“Since this is a sanctioned tournament, the scores get posted on the USTA website and they keep track of the records,” Keller said.  The players’ scores then get compared on a national level.

“Doubles is a fun game. It can make or break marriages,” Keller said.

Keller joked about the seriousness of wheelchair tennis.  Although the game is taken seriously by Keller and the players, it still comes down to having a good time.

The tournament’s sponsor in Lincoln is the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and the balls used in the games are donated by the Racket Corner, a local tennis shop.  The shop also assists with prizes.

The annual tournament has been going on for over 25 years, Keller said.  He plans on continuing his involvement for as long as he can.

“My involvement started when I got a call to help with the tournament and the fellow was a quadriplegic.  His name is Nick Taylor.  He’s playing in the Olympics now,” Keller said.

Crediting the wheelchair tennis player for his interest in the sport, Keller is reminded that getting to know the individuals playing is what truly got him so inclined to stay involved.

Many of the players face a number of health concerns such as kidney problems, which makes them even more admirable, Keller said.

McMillan is paralyzed from his chest down.  He has been enjoying the game for as long as he has been able to.

In regards to the intensity of being mostly paralyzed and playing wheelchair tennis, the key is to keep moving, McMillan said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *