17 people with disabilities sweat it out over a game of tennis every weekend at Cubbon Park
Keeping his eye on a tennis ball that shoots through the air, T. Seetharam, an international sportsperson, deftly moves the wheels of his wheelchair and smashes the ball with his racquet.
He is one of 17 people with disabilities who sweat it out over a game of tennis every weekend at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association courts at Cubbon Park.
“It feels liberating. We move around by ourselves and we are not dependent on anybody,” he says, after scoring a point over his opponent.
“During weekends, nothing is more important than our practice sessions. Everything else takes a back seat,” says Venkatesh Babu, a student and wheelchair tennis player.
The initiative to train players in this sport was taken about a year ago by Mr. Seetharam and his friend Sandesha B.G., a national-level athlete.
Recollecting the days when they had to mobilise people to come and play, Mr. Seetharam says, “Initially, people were sceptical of playing the sport. They were worried that they would fall and hurt themselves. After we convinced them that the wheelchairs were specially designed to ensure their safety, we started getting a dozen players to come and play.”
Barriers to overcome
However, he pointed out that there were several other barriers to tackle. “Most people find it difficult to commute. So we either had to pick them up for practice or give them travel expenses.”
Mr. Sandesha, who feels the sport is still at an infant stage, is trying to persuade more people to join the sport. “As the sport involves a lot of movement, we want to encourage people with disabilities to come and play the sport as it would boost their confidence.”
Today, all the national-level wheelchair tennis players are aspiring to make the cut in the international level.
Their practice session begins with 30-minute rounds around the stadium followed by a 20-minute warm up session. This is followed by an intense session where players are taught the techniques of the game and concludes with a rigorous three-hour tennis match.
Madhusudhan H., a II pre-university student, says the players are like “family to him” and the sport has become an integral part of his life.
“Initially, I could not even hold the racquet properly. But today I deliver smashes. People look at me in awe,” he said.