Donald Shapiro can’t imagine just sitting around, even if he is in a wheelchair.
As long as the weather is nice, he will spend a couple of hours every day hitting tennis balls after work.
On Mondays, he teaches wheelchair tennis clinics for Walton Foundation for Independence. Any other day, he plays against anyone who is available.
That’s one thing he loves about the sport: He’s in a wheelchair, but his opponent doesn’t need to be.
“I play with able-bodied people as much as I play with people in wheelchairs,” Shapiro said.
This weekend, Shapiro will compete in the Walton Foundation for Independence second annual Wheelchair Tennis Championship at Newman Tennis Center. The tournament is part of the Georgia Wheelchair Tennis Grand Prix.
“It helps me to be healthy and in decent shape. And it helps me with other physical activities I have to do every day in a chair,” he said.
Shapiro, 56, lost the use of his legs in a vehicle accident when he was 17. He sustained a spinal cord injury and has no use of the core muscles in his stomach and abdomen and uses his arms to keep himself propped up.
That doesn’t slow him down on the court. He is ranked third in the USTA Men’s Wheelchair A Singles division.
Shapiro said he has seen changes during his 30 years in the sport.
For one thing, wheelchairs have become much more sophisticated. When he started playing, he used his everyday chair. Today’s sports chairs are lighter and the wheels are cambered, which makes them much easier to maneuver.
“They don’t fly, but they’re fast,” he said. “There are people who play open tennis, and you can hardly get a ball by them. They’re just as fast as somebody running.”
A sports chair is necessary to play well, but Shapiro said that shouldn’t discourage anyone from taking up the sport. There are many grants available to help with the cost not only of the chair, but with fees and travel expenses if a player wants to compete.
Playing the sport builds strength, and that leads to greater independence, Shapiro said.
“There’s guys in chairs, and they’re going to be in chairs. (They should) come out and try it and find a recreation they can do and enjoy,” he said. “They just don’t know how much fun it is.”