5th Annual National Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp Provides Pathway to Better Fitness and Mental Health
The San Diego District Tennis Association (SDDTA) and Balboa Tennis Club hosted the 5th Annual National Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp from May 15-21, 2016. The camp is part of a free, year-round program that uses tennis as a means of physical/emotional rehabilitation and community re-integration for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans from across the country. Over 800 have participated in the program since 2009.
On the first day of the camp, members of the San Diego tennis community greeted over 50 participants from 24 states upon their arrival at the airport and assisted with their transportation to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where they received a warm welcome from members of the SDDTA’s Military Outreach Committee.
As part of their reception, they received goodie bags filled with supplies for the week from many sponsors, including tennis shoes courtesy of Tennis Warehouse, camp T-shirts, ball caps, tennis balls, water bottles, sunscreen, introductory tennis rule books, keychains, notepads, pens, snack bags made by the Twin Peaks Middle School’s Builders Club and socks and handmade greeting cards from the Painted Rock Elementary School’s K-Kids Club. Each participant also received a new Prince tennis racquet.
The campers ranged in age from 23-69, represented all military services and many ethnic groups. They had a wide range of visible and invisible disabilities including spinal cord injuries, amputations, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other debilitating conditions. Several brought their care givers and service animals.
Twelve pros from Balboa Tennis Club and three guest pros provided a total of 12 hours of instruction to each camper over three days. Although nearly all the campers were beginners and 14 played in wheelchairs, by the fourth day, all could serve and rally, and they participated in a fun round robin tournament. Several local news stations highlighted the camp on prime time broadcasts.
Dozens of energetic and dedicated volunteers helped with site set-up, food preparation and service, on-court assistance, medical care, and massage therapy. Guest speakers from Seg4Vets, Southern Caregivers Resource Center, Operation Homefront, and Disabled American Veterans gave lunchtime presentations about a wide range of free services available to the campers.
As part of the rehabilitative goals for the camp, evening outings to the Coronado Community Center, Air and Space Museum, Old Town, and a morning harbor cruise provided additional opportunities for the campers to bond, develop friendships, and provide mentorship and emotional support to each other. On the final evening, the campers were treated to a celebratory dinner where many were formally recognized with awards for their accomplishments on and off the court.
Dozens of tennis and community support organizations, restaurants, and generous individuals provided substantial financial and in-kind support so that all the campers’ expenses were covered including airfare, lodging, meals, local transportation, tennis equipment and more. This was critical as many campers would not have been able to afford to attend on their own.
As the campers prepared to return to their hometowns, they received information about tennis resources and points of contact in their communities so they can continue their recoveries through tennis. In the words of one camper that exemplified comments by many others, “You have no idea how impactful this camp has been. It has turned my life around, and I am truly grateful for everything you have done for us. I can’t wait to keep playing tennis when I get home!”
by Steve Kappes