'Different abilities, not disabilities'
Every Sunday at the Family Circle Tennis Center, a group of excited athletes from the Special Olympics South Carolina “Area 6” adaptive tennis program join dedicated volunteer coaches to learn about all aspects of the game, including how to play.
“We have athletes with all different kinds of levels,” explained Coach Patty McFarland. “We try to teach them every step, while also working on sportsmanship and different things like that. We try to get them where they can actually function and do tennis on their own. We have some athletes that can actually play on a lower level.”
While they may not be professionals, these athletes are just like any other athlete, in that they work as hard as they can, added McFarland, whose daughter Kylie participates in the adaptive tennis program.
“They want to do their best,” said McFarland. “They try hard. While they may not be a big pro player, they try their best. That’s what we want, is for them to enjoy themselves and learn the sport.”
For athlete Alyssa Balchar, who will be competing in Special Olympics National Games in Seattle, Washington in the beginning of July, being a part of the adaptive tennis program “means everything” to her.
“It allows me to help me move around and understand that everything doesn’t have to be so perfect,” said Balchar after the Special Olympics adaptive tennis demonstration at the Volvo Car Open on Wednesday, April 4. “You just let the ball go and if it happens, it happens. I made some friends and met some great coaches. It has given me a lot of confidence.”
Ten-year Special Olympic veteran Darryl Malone, who previously served as an Athlete Representative on the Special Olympics South Carolina Board of Directors, emphasized how grateful he is to be active within the organization and its programs.
“I just finished a semester on the committee board,” said Malone, after the demonstration at the Volvo Car Open last week. “I’m also a global messenger. I’m so grateful to be doing a lot of things within the Special Olympics…I’m so thankful that I have family that can see what tennis is all about and means to me.”
From talking with Malone briefly, his love for the sport is obvious. In 2014, he and his doubles partner, Stevie Betros, took fourth place in the National Special Olympic Games in New Jersey.
“That was pretty great,” said Malone. “I did some pretty good scoring. I had some pretty good shots.”
Perhaps most important to the athletes, added Balchar, is for others to see that they are like everyone else.
“We don’t have disabilities,” said Balchar. “We have different abilities…We do things the same as everyone else. I have multiple disabilities and even though they get to me, I just have to accept, for me that’s who I am. It takes time.”
Ann Austin, program administrator for Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Charities, the philanthropic arm of the WTA, stressed how significant events like the Special Olympics demonstration at the VCO are to their organization.
“Our mission is to be involved in the communities that our tournaments are in from week to week,” said Austin after the demonstration concluded. “What is important to our tournaments is important to us. We want to support any community initiatives at each tournament that we go to.”
For more information about Special Olympics South Carolina, to find an area adaptive tennis program or to view a full list of sports offered, visit www.so-sc.org.