Jan 15 2022

Wheelchair Tennis Anyone?

Popularity continues to rise for recreational and competitive sports that engage youth and adults with disabilities. Their training and skillsets are rising, too.

One of the oldest adaptive sports is wheelchair tennis. It has been on the court for more than 40 years.

Dana Mathewson is a top-ranking American wheelchair tennis player. She competes at the U.S. Open. She has represented the country on World Cup teams and she has won a gold medal in doubles and a bronze medal in singles at the Pan-American Games. Dana had been a soccer player, but, at age 10, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease. One day she was running on the field and then, suddenly, she was paralyzed from the waist down. Anyone with a disability or other hardship who plays a sport is, according to Dana, a very resilient person. She sees that resilience and the competitive spirit in many men, women and youth who play basketball, race or ski from a wheelchair, or participate in hockey from a sled.

The rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as for the conventional game. The one exception is that two bounces of the ball are permitted if players require additional time to maneuver on the court. When using the chair, a move to the left or right requires the player to turn the chair and push forward. A player isn’t able to side-step or cross-step.

Players hit tough shots. When on the receiving side, they must quickly steer their chair, often moving in a figure eight, so they can track the ball and position themselves to return a shot. Some of the most talented tennis stars, such as Novak Djokovic and Frances Tiafoe, have tried the adaptive version of tennis and discovered that the game is difficult to play from a wheelchair.

Besides all the routine daily challenges off the court, tennis players with disabilities also face an additional challenge that the rest of us who play tennis, or attempt to play, never experience on the court. A player can blow a tire. When this mechanical mishap occurs at a tournament, players rely on a wheelchair repair technician who is available at courtside.

Mike Zangari is one of the more well-known technicians. He is a wheelchair tennis pioneer. He played for 35 years and he also played wheelchair basketball. At the major tennis events, Mike repairs the lightweight, high-end titanium chairs that cost thousands of dollars. For years, he has joined with young stars such as Dana to showcase the sport and create competitive opportunities for adults and children around the world.

Dec 15 2021

Suzanne Is Hot To Trot

Did you ever hear about dressage? Some call it horse ballet. Others refer to it as dancing with your horse. It is an Olympic sport.

Suzanne Ament, a professor of history at Radford University in Virginia, made her own history outside the classroom earlier this year as the winner of the Spring Fling Schooling Dressage Show at the Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center here on Long Island. Suzanne is blind. She said that similar to the relationship with a Seeing Eye dog, comradery with a horse has provided her with confidence. She also said that the riding experience, including the show, has been filled with fun.

The professor entered the Long Island competition to raise awareness for visually impaired riding and for para-dressage, in which the sport is adapted for riders with disabilities. Suzanne firmly believes that her disability doesn’t place her in the vulnerable situation to fall from a horse. But she and other horse lovers who are visually impaired encounter obstacles not known to other riders. Stables often don’t wish to accommodate riders who aren’t sighted. This possibly might be an insurance issue but also many stable owners and wranglers aren’t equipped or trained to engage people with compromised vision.

The professor of Russian and world history currently is with her fourth Seeing Eye dog. Suzanne has relied on a service dog since 1986. Long before that, when Suzanne was in third grade, she became interested in horses but that passion waned as she pursued her education and began losing her sight. When Suzanne married 10 years ago, she and her husband wanted to share an enjoyable activity. She suggested tandem bicycle riding. He wasn’t interested but they did try horse riding. From that experience, Suzanne gradually returned to serious riding and then to dressage.

The couple now own two horses, Zippy and Hank, and Suzanne enjoys her time in the barn to feed, groom and clean the horses. She finds it relaxing. Comparing the care with that of her dog, Suzanne said it’s similar but just a lot bigger.

Jun 01 2020

America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part I

Can you name America’s first national sports spectacle? Could it have been the first Super Bowl? Maybe the 1951 playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants? Or Babe Ruth’s dominance of baseball? Was it the first Kentucky Derby?

The answer would be none of the above. Probably any event that came to mind also would not qualify. You would need to travel farther back into America’s past to find the first sporting event that captured the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the population.

The story is a fascinating one. Here is some background and a few facts, but I won’t reveal the answer, at least not yet.

The event pitted northerners against southerners, a preview of an increasingly bitter sectional rivalry. Many people did not know or understand the sport, and it was banned in several parts of the country, but they knew that they were rooting for the north, or rooting for the south.

This little hint tells you that the spectacle occurred before the Civil War. Slaves were involved in the event, which was held on what was then the outskirts of America’s center for business and commerce. The location even was beyond Brooklyn, which was its own city at the time.

Much of New York City, along with people who traveled here from across the country, flocked by ferry from Manhattan to awaiting carriages and coaches to take them to the fields in Jamaica, Queens. The people associated with this major sporting event included presidential candidate William Ransom Johnson, sportsman Cornelius Van Ranst and participant Samuel Purdy.

Bands played marching and other tunes, and the crowds kicked up dust on their way to the spectacle. Clever marketing was employed by a Manhattan coffee house and the Fulton markets. You couldn’t watch the match from either location. But, you could enjoy refreshments at either location with a great view of a flag pole in Brooklyn that would announce the winner by raising either a white or blue flag.

One key participant became ill on the day of the event. Another was replaced after a poor showing. Betting, which was frowned upon and even unlawful in many places, including New York, reached the highest levels anywhere up to that time.

Give this some thought. I’ll reveal the rest of the story in a few weeks in America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part II.

Mar 01 2019

From Polo To The Happiest Place On Earth

The brothers played polo regularly. Sometimes they played “hooky” from work to get involved in a game at the Riviera Country Club.

Enjoying the elite sport of polo at the California country club with some of Hollywood’s biggest movers and shakers seemed a bit out of sorts for these two down-to-earth Missouri farm boys. But they enjoyed the comradery and the competition with Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard and Will Rogers.

The younger of the two started riding horses as part of a health regimen after a breakdown. Someone placed a polo mallet in his hand and he just plowed forward, as he did with everything in life and in business. To get up to speed, he invited several of his employees to a conference room to listen to an expert lecture them about the elements of polo. Then, the brothers and any employees who remained interested practiced regularly at a nearby riding academy. They also housed a horse and a net at the offices so they could practice scoring goals during lunch hour.

According to several employees, the younger brother possessed the most drive. He had the ambition to play well. This was no different than his drive and ambition to be successful in business. After learning that the quality of the horses contributed to a high percentage of success in the game, he convinced his older sibling to purchase four expensive horses.

The brothers played for several years until the older and more prudent of the two advised his kid brother, who had played in matches that resulted in several fatalities, to sell the horses and give up the game. The older brother, Roy, maintained that the company’s primary asset should not be playing such a dangerous sport. The end for polo did not come until the younger brother, Walt, took a spill and crushed four cervical vertebrae.

At that point, the Disney brothers concentrated solely on cartoons and feature films. Eventually, they added a theme park that they dubbed the happiest place on earth.

Nov 15 2018

A Family Dedicated To Badminton

Many children enjoy the same sports and other activities as their parents. A few even become as successful at it as a mom or dad.

Ethan Wu is a senior at Great Neck South High School. He excels at first singles badminton. His dad, Chibing, also was a champion player.

Chibing won the bronze medal in mixed doubles as a member of the Chinese national team during the 1989 World Badminton championships. He then coached the Spanish national team at the 1992 Olympics before moving to New York. He founded the New York City Badminton Club.

His son is just over six feet, which gives Ethan an advantage on the court. While some players may take two or three lunge steps before a hit, Ethan needs only one. But, his game is more than genetics.

Many players at this age do not put in the “thinking” about their game. They give in to the excitement of the competition and the adrenaline rush after a good shot. Many of them just want to smash the birdie each time.

Ethan is different. He remains calm. He uses his head and does not rush his game. As a freshman, he won the individual Nassau County title at second singles. Since then, he has placed second twice to the overall county champion.

There is more to the story. Another Wu, Ryan, also plays badminton. He is a couple of years behind his brother, playing second singles at the same school. Could he be better than Ethan? Time will tell. No doubt both boys bring joy to Chibing.

Aug 17 2017

Vaulting Leads To Career Trajectory

Armand Duplantis is known as Mondo. He is a vaulter and has cleared 19 feet at least twice this year. Most vaulters do not clear this height until they reach their prime compete level when they are in their mid-20s. Mondo is 17.

Mondo already has outgrown his home training facility in Louisiana. He jumps so high that the padding on a brick wall near the landing pit no longer provides him with a safety cushion should a practice vault move sideways. So, to continue his training, Mondo practices at his high school.

Mondo is committed to success, and he comes from good family stock. His father was an All-American vaulter who cleared 19 feet as a professional. His mother was a heptathlete and volleyball player. An older brother finished third at the Southeastern Conference indoor vaulting championships. Another brother played in the Little League World Series and now is a college outfielder.

Mondo has represented Sweden in several international competitions. Sweden is his mother’s home country and Mondo maintains dual citizenship. All the boys in the family have enjoyed summers in Sweden and they are comfortable with that country’s youth sports development programs.

Mondo began his training while still wearing diapers. He climbed a neighbor’s tree. Then, he used a skateboard to zoom off the roof with his brothers. His first vaults with a broomstick occurred in the living room. An ottoman served as his landing pit. When he was seven, he was a world age-group champion, preferring to jump barefoot until he was required to wear spiked shoes. Slightly more than a year ago, he vaulted 10 feet in the backyard by launching himself from a hoverboard.

Mondo hopes to vault 19 feet 81/4 inches this year. That is just six inches less than the world record. By the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, his aim is to be the best vaulter in the world and to compete for the gold medal.

For now, though, Mondo will stay close to home. He’s a good pole-vaulter, according to his father, but Mondo needs a little more formal and life education before he travels extensively around the world to compete in the vault.

But, the bar continues to rise for Mondo, who, in everyday life, does keep his feet planted firmly on the ground. That’s a good reminder for all of us as we strive to achieve new heights everyday in business.

Jan 02 2017

A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course…But Similar To A Human Athlete

When someone mentions horses on Long Island, most of us think about Belmont Park and that final race for the triple crown. But, Long Island’s relationship with horses actually reaches back to our early days of agriculture and as our first mode of transportation from the shores of Montauk to the then city limits of Brooklyn.

Within Long Island’s communities, we are seeing a growing interest in show jumping, polo and casual rides along the trails. All this “horsing around” is overseen by dedicated people who are keenly connected with these fine animals.

When you talk with the people who raise and care for horses, you learn that the animals are no different than us. Trainers actually compare horses to human athletes.

The animals require constant training and attention to allow for safe competition and to reduce the chances of injury. The process involves regular exercise, grooming, feeding and then the training. Horses, similar to athletes, work on a variety of skills. These include gaits, response to commands and jumps. Horses also require rest and the opportunity to leisurely expend energy.

Horses can’t be pushed or pressured, also similar to some of our young athletes. Trainers allow a horse to communicate through the nudge of a head or a flicker of a tail, and they ensure that a horse’s mind always is given time to refresh. Top trainers are as in-tune with a horse as top coaches are with young players.

Horse care is not a casual job. Horses require constant oversight and it takes a very intuitive person to bond with the animal. Besides races, shows and the personal pleasures that horses provide, the animals also are known for nurturing personalities that support therapeutic care for children and adults with disabilities. Programs with veterans and prisoners have been successful in helping people build personal confidence through teamwork.

So, how many horses are in Nassau and Suffolk counties? Would you believe about 38,000? Some communities have opposed the presence of horses. However, the work of the Nassau-Suffolk Horseman’s Association has dispelled myths about noise and other issues associated with the animals, allowing these beautiful creatures to become more welcomed and admired.

Let’s not forget the words of General Sherman Potter in the television program M*A*S*H – the horse is a noble animal.

Oct 02 2016

Billiards Are A Bridge To Success For High School Students

Cathedral High School in Manhattan has a billiards club. With the new school year under way, the club is banking on improving upon last year, its best year, when it chalked-up 15 members and qualified for the Billiard Education Foundation’s 28th annual Junior National 9-Ball Championships.

The club began during 2002. It was started by Mike Muldoon, a religion teacher. He enjoyed playing pool but he did not think that the principal would approve his idea to bring the game into the school. But she approved his proposal and the program has continued to grow each year.

This year, two additional billiard tables (bringing the total to three) will be added at the school, which received its first table just a year earlier. Until that first table arrived, the students practiced at local billiards clubs.

Mike is ready for another great year. His club members enjoy the practices and the spirit of competition, and everyone has fun.

Mike is hopeful that he will have about 20 members during the current school year.  With three club members at last season’s nationals outside of Chicago, the club has placed a significant challenge on the table for this year’s members to repeat and expand upon the success. The two additional tables, along with the added coaching assistance of a professional player/tutor, already have created a buzz among students.

All the students in the club learn that the game of pool is challenging, but that the creation of a strategy to plan the shots helps boost confidence and success. As the new season begins, the club is focused on competing at the state qualifier during May, with hopes that players again will qualify for the junior nationals.

Oh, I forgot to mention that all the students in the club are girls. Cathedral is an all-girls school overseen by the New York Archdiocese.

Sep 16 2015

A Luge Step For One Athlete

The sign appears at the driveway—TEAM SICHLER / ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Inside the house, a flag comforter and matching pillowcase are found in one of the bedrooms. A Team USA flag hangs on a wall, painted by the parents and two children who reside in the home. On another wall is a huge cutout photo of a boy sliding down a track. That boy is Jeffrey Sichler, the U.S. Junior National Team luger. He’s 10 years old.

Jeffrey’s parents were dedicated skiers and triathletes. Mom just missed making the national team. Their training has been placed on hold for their son, who has become obsessed with luge, that ultra-fast sledding on an ice track that seems to garner widespread interest only during the Winter Olympics.

The U.S. has only two luge training tracks. One track is in Utah. The other is in Lake Placid. After working on his skills at lake Placid by sliding on multiple weekends every month last winter, Jeffrey’s talent eventually caught the eye of USA Luge during the spring 2014 national dry land Slider Search in Queens. That event is conducted on wheeled sleds on a concrete course.

More than 730 teens and pre-teens participated in the Slider Search, but only 124, including Jeffrey, were chosen to attend screening camps. Jeffrey then became one of 40 kids to be added to the U.S. team. A total of 95 boys and girls are in the junior program. Jeffrey is slotted at the beginner “D” level. By the time he is 15 or 16, he should be elevated to the “B” level. Winning in international competition warrants promotion to the “A” level.

Jeffrey is attaining 50 miles per hour on his runs that begin partway up the track. That’s more than half the speed of athletes who start at the top. The family is “all in” for this new luger who already has a nickname (“The Jeffinator”) for his go-for-broke style.

The ride won’t come cheap to the Sichler family. The first year will cost about $10,000 and the expense for training and competition will rise annually.

The parents will find the money. They just want Jeffrey to have fun and continue to succeed. They believe that it is healthy to dream, to dream big and to pursue goals while enjoying the ride—even if it is downhill all the way.

- Jim

Feb 16 2015

Trying To Become One Of The World’s Best

Joshua Colas is a neatly dressed skinny kid with glasses. Nothing flashy–he’s just a regular 16-year-old high school junior.

The family home, an apartment, is filled with scores of trophies of various shapes and sizes. Space is limited. Room now must be found as more trophies may be on the horizon since Joshua may be close to stardom. He doesn’t play sports nor does he have a singing, music, or acting talent. Joshua’s talent is found at the table with a board game.

Joshua is a chess whiz. No, he’s a chess champion. No, check that, he’s a prodigy whose ambition is to become one of the world’s best players.

Joshua learned to play from his father. It began when the boy was just seven years of age. In a few months, son was beating dad. He has a photographic memory and he memorizes the board.

Joshua compares his skill to finding his way home. Do it enough times and the route becomes second nature. No wonder his career highlights are longer than five pages. His chess rating has risen each year. At 10, he was third best in the nation in that age group. At 12, Joshua was the youngest African-American Chess Master (his family is from Haiti). At 13, he topped all players in that group.

Now, Joshua is ranked 231 out of more than 52,000 chess players of all ages who are registered with the United States Chess Federation. He has been selected to the 2015 All-American Chess Team.

For intense chess players, or should I say chess masters, the four-hour matches can become tiresome. Joshua, though, never gets too high or too low. He relaxes his brain before each match so as not to place too much pressure on himself.

Joshua’s goal is to become the first American-born black Grandmaster. To do this, he first must become an International Master. He will face that challenge during a European tour this coming summer. That goal is not cheap. Joshua is raising about $24,000 for travel, hotels and tournament entry fees.

With the help of family and friends, Joshua will be on that tour. Then, he just needs his second nature to kick in.

Checkmate!

Jim