He finally got his worldly wish
SNOHOMISH — After years of being on the cusp of the limelight, 30-year wheelchair tennis athlete Anthony Anderson, 48, got the chance to shine.
Anderson, from Snohomish, was selected to the United States Tennis Association (USTA)’s 2014 World Team
Cup. He traveled to The Netherlands last month to compete in both singles and doubles against players from countries such as France, Korea, Poland and Sweden.
The U.S. men’s team placed 7th overall out of 35 teams.
Anderson beamed at the experience.
“I’ve been playing wheelchair tennis for 30 years and this was my first World Team Cup,” Anderson said. “I think they (selection board of USTA coaches) selected me because I’ve done so much with the sport.”
He’s played all forms of tennis, and teaches youth camps to wheelchair athletes in his spare time.
His athletic talent in wheelchair tennis lets him travel to tournaments around the world, a different place almost each month of the season, and he loves it.
He plays against Paralympics athletes, as well as “able-bodied” world-class tennis athletes. He has won 60 wheelchair tennis tournaments and has been ranked as high as the No. 3 top player by the International Tennis Federation. His work and volunteerism with USTA wheelchair tennis has allowed him to make lifelong friends.
Anthony Anderson in action on the court at the World Team Cup in The Netherlands this May.
It wasn’t this easy in the beginning.
Three decades ago at age 17, Anderson was severely injured in a car accident that left him wheelchair-bound.
He grew up in Lakewood playing sports such as football, basketball and baseball. With the injury, he missed playing sports. After seeing an advertisement in his local paper about a wheelchair tennis clinic, he decided to go watch.
Anderson said he remembers being curious about wheelchair sports, since life in a wheelchair was new to him.
At the clinic, the clinic’s then-director, Brian Larson, came over to Anderson to talk.
Larson told him, “you’re not just gonna watch, you’re gonna play,” and handed him a tennis racket, Anderson remembered.
It had been one year since the accident.
“So I picked up the tennis racket and played, in my jeans and everything,” Anderson recalled with delight. “Ever since then, I was hooked.”
Anderson said from that point on, Larson took him under his wing “and showed me the ropes (of wheelchair tennis). It’s ironic that I’m doing now what he did for me – teaching wheelchair tennis camps.”
Anderson teaches wheelchair tennis to youngsters who are going through the distressing experience he went through 30 years ago. His passion in teaching junior division wheelchair tennis stems from the experience he had as a teen.
“What it really is is just letting (the new wheelchair tennis athletes) know that they’re capable and they can get out there,” he said. “There’s this whole other world, and you get out there, live your life, and get it done. You know, you have this devastating injury that changes your life, but you can’t let it limit you or define you. Now, there’s collegiate-level wheelchair sports — that’s how far it’s come and it’s amazing. None of that was available to me when I was that age.
“I was handed the responsibility of living my life in a wheelchair at 17 and the opportunity that wheelchair tennis has offered me — it’s everything to me. I want them to know that life doesn’t stop (when you’re injured and have to be in a wheelchair).”
He also balances out having a family and a full-time job.
Anderson said he’s introduced his wife Leslie and three children to wheelchair tennis and they like it.
“My wife realized immediately how great the (wheelchair tennis) environment is, because people are amazingly positive,” he said. “It’s funny, because there are really no borders, because you do things you thought you could never do in a wheelchair.”
Among his travels, Anderson has been able to do things few have done, such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, skiing, and his favorite: making international friends.
“I’ve got friends all around the world because of wheelchair tennis,” he said.
With travels to 25 or 30 different countries over the years, Anderson said the journey so far has been amazing and something he would have never experienced had it not been for wheelchair tennis.
And he still has far to go.
On the horizon, Anderson is looking to try — again — to qualify for the Paralympics. He has come close many times, placing fifth overall when the top four qualify.
“I’ve been one of those players that has just been out of the limelight. That was the case for a long time, and it used to bother me, so the World Team Cup was a great opportunity to be recognized. I used to wonder, why not me, and then boom – I get to go (to the World Team Cup). I kept working hard, and eventually, determination will get you there.”
Playing with the likes of Jon Rydberg and Stephen Welch, both Paralympics qualifiers, has made Anderson all the more determined to try to qualify for the 2016 Games.
“I’m going to work hard and try really hard,” Anderson said of training for the Paralympics. “It won’t be easy because I do have a family and full-time job, but at one point, I was ranked real well and had great community support (with the Columbia Athletic Club in Everett). If I can get my rankings up (through tournament rankings in 2015), then that’s what may help, so that will be my biggest push, coming up mostly in a year (2015). That’s my shot and I’m going to go for it.”
Correction: An earlier published version of this story misstated that Anderson participates in the Special Olympics, which is for cognitively disabled athletes. Anderson is trying for the Paralympics, which is for physically impacted athletes.