Elkhart Wheelchair Sports
Contact: Vicki Kronemeyer, founder and president
Web site: elkhartwheelchairsports.com
ELKHART - Tennis, anyone?
Well, more specifically, anyone in a wheelchair.
Kaitlyn Kronemeyer - a 15-year-old Concord High School sophomore with spina bifida in her body, high energy in her spirit and a take-action mom in her corner - has developed a fondness for tennis and would like to play other wheelchair-bound athletes.
"It would be really great for us to not have to drive so far to play," says Kaitlyn, who participates each summer at a wheelchair sports camp in Libertyville, Ill., but who has found few options to stir her competitive juices locally.
Kaitlyn's mother, Vicki, is convinced that there must be other aspiring wheelchair athletes in the area, and she's taken special steps to find and link them.
Vicki started Elkhart Wheelchair Sports Inc. as a nonprofit organization earlier this year. A website named for the organization details its motivations and mission.
"It's for anybody, any age, who has a physical challenge," Vicki says of the service she intends to provide to individuals of any skill level. "We're starting with tennis and seeing if it goes anywhere from there."
An administrator for a local medical practice, Vicki says that many larger cities offer wheelchair sports programs, but ones the size of Elkhart generally do not.
"It's so important to stay active," Vicki says of the battle that individuals in wheelchairs encounter. "They face higher rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease because their lives are more sedentary. Like any other person, it's important that they take steps to keep their mobility and flexibility."
Vicki has already received a commitment from Arul Amalnathan, a tennis pro at Eastlake Athletic Club, to work with any wheelchair athletes she finds and brings together. It might be for drills only, or for tournaments down the road as well, depending on the level of interest.
"Right now, there would be no cost," she says. "Later on, there might be a small cost."
The rules of wheelchair tennis are similar to regular tennis, the major exception being that the ball can bounce twice and still be in play.
Amalnathan, who has previous experience coaching wheelchair athletes, began giving Kaitlyn weekly lessons several months ago.
"It's really a fun sport, enjoyable and I wanted to try something new," Kaitlyn says.
Kaitlyn has free use of her arms, but her ability to walk is greatly and increasingly limited by her disease.
"It's all I've known," Kaitlyn says of spina bifida, a birth defect involving the spine. "I feel like I get around at school and other places pretty well. A lot of people help out and are understanding, which helps."
Kaitlyn, who also has a passion for animals, played T-ball with a walker when she was younger, played volleyball on her school team in fifth and sixth grade and was a track manager in junior high. Her 11-year-old brother, Carson, is active in sports, so she also stays involved through him.
"Kaitlyn's had opportunities to experience a number of things, and playing sports has increased her self-esteem," Vicki says, "but it becomes harder to find or remain in something competitive as you get to the older levels."
Hence, Elkhart Wheelchair Sports.
"It's good what she's doing," Kaitlyn says of her mom. "She's put a lot of work into it."