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'I found my people': Competition, community front and center at USTA Midwest Wheelchair Tennis Championship

46 athletes from 11 states competed in Grand Rapids this weekend.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Competitors from all over the country came to Grand Rapids for a chance at winning the USTA Midwest Wheelchair Tennis Championship. 46 competitors represented 11 different states.

16-year-old Mathias came in from Cincinnati, Ohio. One of his matches lasted two hours – but he said that the fierce back and forth wasn’t his favorite part of the weekend.

“Being at the hotel and just hanging out with everyone," he said, "that’s when you can just be yourself.”

One of his new friends is Xander, a 14-year-old from Kalamazoo.

“Score-wise I wasn’t playing great, but this was definitely a learning experience,” Xander said. 

More than $5,000 in prize money was on the line for the victors, but for everyone else, it’s about getting better and being together.

“It helped me to realize that disability isn’t all that I was,” Xander said about his first times competing. "Even though disability is a part of me, it’s not all of me.”

The only rule difference between tennis and adaptive tennis is that the ball can bounce twice before it’s returned. Aside from that, the two games are nearly identical.

“Basically...I’ve met my people," Mathias says. "I know who they are, but it’s just a normal day really.”

Even before the tournament, friendly “up down” matches kicked off the weekend, pairing adaptive and able-bodied athletes together for doubles.

“I would say the community is a very important part of tennis, and really any sport," Xander said. "Being able to play tennis you can get connected to some really cool people.”

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