Ever so often, we are lucky to experience not only sheer talent, but a timeless role model continuing to better the sport after their retirement. Esther Vergeer. I hope you have heard of her, Jason wrote an awesome blog about her here. I wanted to take the chance to acknowledge not only her accomplishments on the court since she has retired this month after being the most dominant figure in Wheelchair Tennis, but also note the great things she is doing in her work off the court.
Retiring a few months short of her 32nd birthday, her stats are pretty mind-blowing. She has 42 Grand Slam titles. 22 year-end championships. And 7 Paralympic titles. When an ATP or WTA player holds the number one spot for a year, it’s an impressive feat. Vergeer has held the number one spot since 1999. And she ended her career on a winning streak of 470 matches that began in January 2003.
At the age of 8, Vergeer became paralyzed during a risky surgery. While rehabbing, she learned to play volleyball, basketball, and tennis all in a wheelchair. Her athleticism shone through despite being confined to a wheelchair. She played basketball with the Dutch team and was part of a championship team in 1997 before making the switch to play tennis full time in 1998 (clearly, the right decision).
In a time when women’s tennis rankings are so fickle and ever changing on the WTA Tour and a clear spokeswomen or even role model of the sport has been blurry, look to Esther Vergeer. I could ramble on and on about the amazing achievements this woman has on her Wheelchair tennis resume, but instead, I’d like to take the time to acknowledge this woman’s spirit and amazing outlook on life. She is an absolute inspiration on so many levels. Can you imagine at the age of 8 being confined to a wheelchair? And instead of feeling sorry for yourself, making the most of your life and becoming one of the most decorated athletes in the world. Think about it.
Vergeer’s work off the court is just as inspiring as her on court accomplishments. She has been an ambassador for Wheelchair tennis and has worked endlessly in developing the sport throughout the world. Vergeer has created her own foundation that helps kids with disabilities and empowers them by involving them in athletics. She is passionate about the work she does and realizes that there are still many countries around the world in which being physically disabled is considered a flaw. Kids (and adults for that matter) are left out of sports or other activities that may seem normal to us because of their disabilities. Bringing awareness to this issue has become key. Creating equality and proving to the world that someone who may not be able to use their legs, certainly can use their arms and play alongside a fully able person.
What I love about Vergeer is her ever so positive outlook on life. Something I work on trying to be better at daily (ironically, also one of the biggest lessons we can learn in tennis): Control what you can and let go of what you can’t control. After she won the US Open in 2011 she said, “There are going to be things in life that you didn’t plan or that come unexpectedly. Events that you don’t have any control over. It could be a disability, or someone passing away, or losing a job. It’s about how you deal with that. You are the one that’s going to make something out of your life.” I couldn’t have said it better if I tried!
Best of luck to Esther in her new chapter and only time will tell if there is a competitor out there that can touch the amazing career that she holds.
Play with heart,