Tallahassee man wows on the tennis court despite being in a wheelchair

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Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 1:14 pm | Updated: 6:18 pm, Fri Jun 13, 2014.

TALLAHASSEE, FL (#WTXLDigital) -- Tennis is a sport of speed, coordination and agility. I discovered, when visiting local wheelchair tennis player Sunil Patel, that an athlete is not always defined by his physical ability.

Wheelchair tennis is one of the only paralympic sports that can be played with the able-bodied. The only rule difference is that the wheelchair player receives two bounces during play. According to the United State Tennis Association (USTA), Patel is currently ranked third is Men’s Wheelchair Singles and fourth in Men’s Wheelchair Tennis Doubles. He also practices and plays on the able-bodied Tallahassee 3.0 Men’s Team.

“My most memorable experience was when I went to the USTA Wheelchair US Open a couple years ago in San Diego, CA…We won doubles and we got to hold up a crystal trophy,” Patel said.

Patel has always been an avid sports fan, learning to play different sports over the years. After attending a camp in Gainesville in 2003, Patel continued to take lessons in Tallahassee and joined three USTA leagues (Men’s, Mixed, and Over 40). He is the only competitive wheelchair tennis player in the Tallahassee area.

“My career goal is to travel around the country, compete in tournaments with all of the other players and become #1 in the nation,” Patel said. “I want to have a good time playing tennis and bring back a lot of trophies for my city of Tallahassee.”

Most recently Patel won the Atlanta Open, a U.S. National Championship that is affiliated with the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour. He is also heading to New York this summer to compete in another tournament. Patel says his dreams of traveling to play tournaments are possible because of the non-profit organization, The Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA).

According to his coach, Corey Howard, Patel practices five days a week at either Forest Meadows Courts or Tom Brown Park.

“He gives his all every time. He is one of the most dedicated folks we have out here,” Howard said.

When tagging along with Patel for one of his league games, it was evident that he was a local tennis celebrity. From the moment we stepped through the door, everyone was calling him by his nickname “Sunny” because of his positive attitude.

“He is a lot of fun. He is always joking around and is a lot of fun,” Jeff Banka said.

“His spirit is good for the sport,” Kevin Collins said.

I decided to take on the challenge of playing tennis in a wheelchair. The first steps were to learn how to push and turn the chair. After the preliminary steps, I was served multiple balls and found myself missing almost all of them. The combination of moving the chair, turning and hitting was harder than I thought. With instruction from a nationally ranked wheelchair player, I eventually ended up hitting some over the net. I was surprised at how sore my arms and back were the next day after my lesson.

Sunil “Sunny” Patel is an inspiration as he continues to follow his dreams through all adversity.

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