Bryan Barten has been pushing a wheelchair around with one arm while a tennis racket is attached to his other arm for so long that it has almost become second nature for him. He’s also become so adept at it that he’s managed to compete in two Para-Olympics and the last two U.S. Open Wheelchair events.
“I push just as fast in my wheelchair holding the racket as I do without holding the racket; it’s something you learn in the first year or two. In the beginning it’s difficult to get used to, but I don’t even think about it anymore,” said Barten.
He became paralyzed in 1995 as the result of an automobile wreck while he was a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
He was always active in sports but knew nothing of wheelchair tennis.
“I really liked it, but didn’t have any experience with tennis before, so the only tennis that I know is wheelchair tennis,” Barten said.
His racket is actually taped to his right hand during the competition. He said the Quadriplegic category is a super-competitive division and he is one of the more disabled athletes in that division.
“The most challenging thing, I think, is playing players who have way more function than me,” Barten said. “They have way more function in their core. I have to play smarter.”
Barten said he tries to be a little more strategic while on the court in order to compete — and compete he does.
“I had a good tournament there last year, that’s for sure,” Barten said. He is the defending Georgia Open champion and rated No. 6 in the world, according to Rome Tennis Center Executive Director Tom Daglis
Barten actually coaches the wheelchair tennis at the University of Arizona now.
“Right now we’ve got four on the team, so anyone interested in going to school and is interested in playing the sport, I’d love to talk with them about the adaptive sports program at the university,” Barten said.
He teamed with David Wagner of the U.S. to win the 2017 British Open Quad doubles championships. Barten also represented the U.S. in the London Paralympics in 2012 and Rio in 2016, and is training with the idea of making the U.S. team for the Tokyo games in 2020.
“I’m hoping to medal there before I retire from the sport,” he said.
The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College will host the 2019 Georgia Open this Wednesday through Sunday.