Brian Davis served his country in the U.S. Navy from 2004 through 2009, including an eight-month deployment to the Middle East. But he admits that after a motorcycle accident in 2008 that left him in a wheelchair, he had moments where he sat at home on the couch and felt lost with an uncertain future ahead of him. With a wife expecting at the same time, Davis was going through rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids not knowing what his next move might be.
It was there, during his rehab, that it was suggested he get involved in wheelchair tennis, just one of the nearly two dozen wheelchair and adaptive sports offered at Mary Free Bed.
“I wasn’t really into basketball or anything like that,” Davis said, “but I really enjoyed tennis. It’s been my outlet going on five years now.”
Adaptive and wheelchair sports have been growing dramatically over the last few years, especially with the influx of an estimated 10,000 veterans and active service members now participating in adaptive sports. The interest in the Paralympic Games has also led to sports fitness facilities built especially for adaptive and wheelchair athletes. For example, the Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities in Phoenix is a $13 million facility with fitness and aquatics centers, indoor hardwood courts, a climbing wall and more. It also serves as a venue for local, national and international adaptive sporting events.
The best thing about the program in Grand Rapids, according to Davis, is the competitiveness. “I’ve always been competitive; I’ve always loved testing myself against others. Just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can’t be active.”
Davis and his wheelchair tennis team travel across the country for matches, including one memorable one in Dallas. “I’ll never forget that,” he said, “we were there in the middle of the summer in 98° weather with 90 percent humidity.” Other not-so-humid stops for the team of around 20, plus coaches, have included Fort Wayne and Chicago, among others.
Mary Free Bed’s sports offerings, besides wheelchair tennis, include such sports as wheelchair softball, sports camps, wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, open water fishing and many more. “That’s the great thing about the programs,” Davis said. “It’s a variety, not the same thing over and over.”
And programs keep growing, mainly because of word of mouth, according to Davis. “In tennis we have a banquet, and we show off what we do. The word spreads to other athletes who may want to try it, and we are fortunate enough that we’re exposed to sponsors who want to help out.”
It was because Davis was willing to try this new sport, that he is an enthusiastic supporter of wheelchair tennis. “Getting out and doing is better than sitting at home and feeling sorry for yourself,” he said. “I admit it was a rough patch for me at the beginning, but one, my newborn daughter got me through, and two, seeing others getting involved really encouraged me.”
And his advice to others considering adaptive or wheelchair sports? “Just try it,” he said. “It has added so much to my life. It can do the same for you.”
For more information on the Mary Free Bed sports programs, visit http://www.maryfreebed.com/rehabilitation/wheelchair-adaptive-sports/.