Two University of Arizona athletes and their coach will represent the nation during the 2011 World Team Cup in Pretoria, South Africa, April 25 through May 1.
Kaitlyn Verfuerth, a psychology junior, and Dana Mathewson, an honors speech, language and hearing sciences sophomore, and their adaptive athletics coach, Bryan Barten, have been selected to compete on the USA National Wheelchair Tennis Team.
More than 200 players from more than 30 nations are expected to participate during the event. The World Team Cup is a stepping stone to the Paralympics, the second-largest sports competition in the world, after the Olympics.
The trio gained selection by the USA National Coaching staff based on their international ranking and skill level and will compete in teams against other countries around the world much like the men's tennis Davis Cup or the women's tennis Fed Cup.
The women and their coach have traveled the world competing in tournaments, where many times they share courts with tennis professionals including Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters.
Verfuerth and Mathewson are two of the four women chosen nationally to compete in South Africa and are part of the UA Adaptive Athletics Program. They practice six days a week – three on the tennis courts and three in the weight room.
A veteran of the Paralympics, Verfuerth has competed in the 2004 and 2008 games and has hopes to make the 2012 games in London. Having been injured during an automobile accident at the age of seven, she began playing competitive wheelchair tennis at the age of 14.
By committing herself to playing the tennis tour early on she gained international ranking and the attention of coach Barten. "Wheelchair tennis has given me self confidence," Verfuerth said. "It has also given me the opportunity to see the world."
Verfuerth and Mathewson said the UA Adaptive Athletics Program drew them to the University, and for Mathewson the Honors College was an additional incentive to enroll at the UA.
Mathewson contracted the rare neurological disease transverse myelitis at the age of 10. She played soccer before her illness but has found that her sense of competitiveness has increased since taking up adaptive tennis.
"It's a team sport versus individual sport mentality," Mathewson said. She was contacted by the National Tennis Association's Wheelchair program while in the seventh grade and has had her eye on the World Team Cup and the Paralympics since then.
"It's a huge honor to get to represent my county. I get butterflies just thinking about being a part of the USA's delegation of athletes," Mathewson said.
Coach Barten started the UA's adaptive tennis team in 1997 when an undergrad at the University. Currently, he works at the UA's Disability Resource Center as an adaptive athletics coach, coaching the wheelchair rugby and tennis teams.
The Adaptive Athletics Program at the Disability Resource Center provides disabled athletes the opportunity to compete in a variety of sports, including wheelchair track, quad rugby, tennis, men's and women's basketball and goalball, a sport for the blind and visually impaired.
Barten credits adaptive athletics and its comprehensive program that includes fitness and physical therapy centers for his own success.
Barten is one of four men chosen to compete on the USA men's quad team in South Africa and said the student players help keep his game competitive. He is currently ranked No. 9 in the world, which earned him an invitation to play.
Though he is competing in South Africa, Barten said, the focus should remain on the students. "I am very excited to watch them compete and know that the USA team and the UA are well represented with Kaitlyn and Dana's selections."