Wheelchair Tennis Champion of the Year: Harlon Matthews
Tennis discovered Harlon Matthews on Cinco de Mayo 2001. A wheelchair basketball player at the time, Matthews had no interest in tennis. “They told me I’d have to hold the racquet but still keep my chair moving. They told me I’d get blisters,” says Matthews. “I told them, ‘No thank you.’”
But when Tennis Day arrived in Athens Ga., Matthews gave tennis a try. And tennis changed his life. “I never felt that in 34 years of my life,” he said. Matthews began as a novice player but kept at it. Now, he is the Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator and tennis coach in Henry County, Ga.
Matthews didn’t stop there; he became a member of the PTR and passed the instructor test. “He’s amazing,” says Julie Jilly, the PTR’s v.p. of operations. “He moved up from beginner player to clinician. He’s very passionate about what tennis can do for people. Now, he teaches the teachers.”
In addition, Matthews is a tournament director for the Geranium Festival Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, which recently was named USTA Southern Section’s 2010 Tournament of the Year.
“The one thing that makes Harlon such a successful person is his passion, love for tennis and his unbelievable competitive nature despite his disability,” says Rick Davison, director of competition for USTA Georgia. “He’s just one of those individuals who inspires others to just do it and stop making excuses.”
Tips for success
- Sports wheelchairs are different from regular wheelchairs, so people need to be willing to move outside of their comfort zone and try something they’re not used to.
- Wheelchair tennis players need to keep their chair moving at all times, similar to able-bodied players, who need to keep their feet moving in order to get to the ball.
- Get wheelchair athletes and non-athletes out to tennis events. Seeing what others are doing and how much fun tennis is can inspire reluctant people to give tennis a chance.
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.