August 15, 2022

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Dana Mathewson: Wheelchair tennis star plots Paralympic breakthrough | Tokyo Paralympic Video games 2020

7 min read

Sports by mother nature to lots of, can be found as simply a sport, mere enjoyment at that. To some, it is a superb action to maintain or enhance physical wellbeing. To some others, it is the adrenaline rush they obtain from levels of competition, the thrill of victory or the likely economical reward that awaits them. Nonetheless, for innumerable persons and athletes with disabilities, possessing sporting activities current in their life has established to be daily life-altering, video game-modifying if you will, to the issue beyond explanation. Dr Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Game titles, the moment claimed, “Paraplegia is not the close of the way. It is the commencing of a new life.”

Dana Mathewson, the highest rated male or feminine American wheelchair tennis participant in the planet, embodies that assertion to the utmost, as she gears up to signify Group United states in singles and doubles at the Summertime Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan this thirty day period for the next time in her job. A professional on the ITF/Uniqlo Wheelchair Tennis Tour for above a ten years, the American has stood business as the major-standing female from the US for the the vast majority of that period of time. Her position has only heightened, as she at present ranks a vocation-high No 9 in singles and No 7 in doubles, and has thrived in one particular of the speediest growing wheelchair sports activities throughout the earth that is predominantly dominated by international players, where she is at present the only American female rated in the best 25 singles rankings.

With a activity built all around aggressive groundstrokes and the wish to continually pin her opponents again further driving the baseline, the right-handed Mathewson will march into the Paralympics as perhaps America’s most significant hope for gold in the wheelchair singles occasion. The construct-up encompassing Mathewson is that she’s not just a person of the major contenders in Tokyo but there is possible record on the line, exactly where she’s aiming to come to be the initially American girl to earn a gold medal in the women’s singles wheelchair competitors and only the 2nd to at any time medal since Terry Lewis gained bronze at the 1988 Game titles. Given that wheelchair tennis was added to the Paralympic Online games in 1988, the gold medal on the women’s side has been dominated by the Netherlands.

Mathewson’s leap into athletics started as a youth in San Diego, the place she made an enthusiasm for soccer. Then at the age of 10, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a scarce neurological condition that impacts the spinal cord and brings about the immune technique to assault the reduce location of the back. With her mother currently being insistent in holding her daughter energetic, she experimented with her hand in basketball and rugby at 13, prior to finding that tennis gave her that aggressive success she craved.

Climbing as higher as No 5 on the junior wheelchair circuit, considering that turning pro in 2008, she has steadily elevated herself into 1 of the much more regular performers on the women’s tour, in both of those singles and doubles motion. Through her occupation, Mathewson has gathered 11 singles titles and 23 doubles titles, was a 2016 Paralympian, has been a doubles grand Slam finalist and two-time semi-finalist, achieved the semi-finals of the 2019 US Open (her deepest operate at a singles big function) and, in probably her very best feat to day, captured a gold medal (doubles) and a bronze medal (singles) at the 2019 Parapan American Video games for Team United states.

“I appreciate that tennis lets me to force myself and see what I’m capable of executing,” Mathewson mentioned. “Because it’s a singular activity, when you have a massive earn, you know that’s for the reason that of the several hours you place in on your have, and that feeling of accomplishment is compared with anything I have ever felt.”

A single crucial factor the 30-yr-aged has credited improvement in is on the cerebral side. “I’ve experienced the possibility to operate with a mental skills coach, so my thoughts is a whole lot stronger now than it was just before,” she reported. “Mental abilities aid you in individuals major match times, where by you need to be quiet and collected.”

Wheelchair tennis athlete Dana Mathewson poses for a portrait in West Hollywood, California. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

When Mathewson’s evolution as a player has certainly been inspiring, she together with other wheelchair athletes are however seeking to debunk the frustrating narrative that disabled athletes are not on equivalent footing with capable-bodied athletes.

“When you choose the chairs absent, what someone is looking at when they look at wheelchair tennis is just that … tennis,” Mathewson said. “We strike forehands, backhands, serves and volleys just the exact as able-bodied gamers. We even play on the same courts and surfaces, and at grand slams. I believe what men and women don’t understand is that wheelchair tennis is elite. We have the very same education regimens as players you know very well, like Roger Federer and Serena [Williams]. We have fitness applications, nutritionists, trainers, on-court docket and off-court docket schooling periods, and rehab just like any person else. All it takes for anyone to take pleasure in the degree of engage in is to arrive see it in individual.”

Contemplating the strides the tour has built, Mathewson acknowledges that in regards to wheelchair tennis gamers getting extra recognition, owning greater enthusiast bases, being marketed better and earning better prize cash, there’s however perform to be accomplished to shut the hole. “The most I have created at a event is about $20,000,” Mathewson claimed. “For a wheelchair participant, this is a large amount of dollars but it pales in comparison to what a initial-spherical loser gets at the same tournament on the able-bodied aspect. The variance in prize revenue is stunning.”

At this year’s Australian Open up singles levels of competition, capable-bodied players that decline in the next spherical acquired $150,000, in contrast to the winner at the wheelchair party that took dwelling just $140,000. At the moment sponsored by Adidas, Wilson, The Hartford and Deloitte, Mathewson suggests most wheelchair tennis gamers survive off endorsements and prize cash earnings but it is tough to receive, yet she believes with the activity starting to be a lot more mainstream this will change.

Irrespective of dealing with individuals hurdles, Mathewson, who is a combine of both Chinese and Scottish/Polish heritage, recognized she experienced to tweak some items in purchase to reach her athletic goals. Immediately after training independently for someday though researching audiology at the College of Arizona, then completing her master’s degree at University School London in England in 2020, she made the choice to dedicate whole-time to instruction by going to the USTA Countrywide Campus in Orlando, Florida, very last yr correct right before Covid-19 struck and cancelled numerous of tournaments. There she trains with head mentor Jason Hartnett.

This summer season has been rather eventful for Mathewson. Coming off a quarterfinal look at her first at any time French Open in June, a singles runner-up finish in Loughborough, Terrific Britain, in which she defeated entire world No 4 Jordanne Whiley for the 1st time, and seizing the Toyota Open singles and doubles title in Île de Ré, France, she enters the Paralympics in the ideal variety of her career.

“During my time instruction this past year, I have learned a great deal of new photographs, this sort of as fall pictures or much more net enjoy which requires extra contact and come to feel than I’ve at any time had right before,” Mathewson explained. “I have improved my provide, my mobility, strength, and courtroom awareness. I really feel like I shift greater and see the court differently than I did in advance of. I consider I’m a significantly a lot more nicely-rounded player now.”

In conditions of countrywide exposure, this summer’s Paralympic Games will be a major breakthrough globally for disabled athletes, as NBC Common is planning to air 1,200 several hours of Paralympic coverage, including the 1st primetime broadcast programming in the record of the celebration, which Mathewson is happy of and feels it’s very long overdue. “This is humongous for Paralympic activity and adaptive activity in general,” Mathewson said. “We have been battling for this recognition in the United States for yrs, and I’m so delighted that matters are eventually starting off to modify and the tides are commencing to change. Showcasing us on primetime is a little something that we as athletes have fought for, and I honestly believe it is what we deserve.”

Aside from medaling in Tokyo, Mathewson’s main intention transferring ahead is to crack the major seven in the earth rankings so she can attain immediate entry into Grand Slam gatherings that only allow eight-player attracts. She and other gamers on tour are at the moment pushing for much larger draw measurements at slams. Nevertheless, the world’s major-rated American wheelchair tennis player’s target continues to be on the Paralympics, the place she’s totally informed of what profitable a gold medal would indicate.

“It’s something that any athlete desires of, and I just hope that I can convey my A-match and make that come about not just for myself, but for American females, and for the disabled athletes that appear soon after me.”

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