Stephen Welch has been competing in wheelchair tennis for 20 years. In that time, he’s amassed over 100 major titles, including two number one world titles, three U.S. Opens, and a gold medal at the 2011 Parapan American Games and another at the 1996 Paralympic Games. At the age of 39 Welch is looking forward to London this year as part of the National Wheelchair Tennis Team.
As a boy of eight, Stephen was diagnosed with Legg Calve Perthes, a degenerative bone condition that affected his hip joint. Before his diagnosis, he’d played soccer, football, and baseball; after, he embraced wheelchair sports. “He was extremely competitive and a phenomenal athlete,” says his brother, Jim Welch. He played for the wheelchair basketball team at University of Texas, Arlington, helping the team win two national championships.
Welch sees his sport as “parallel to able-bodied tennis in terms of strategy and preparation and what it takes to win.” But learning to play in a wheelchair takes practice, he says: “The racket is in your hand, as well as the rim of the wheel. It’s really weird.” Wheelchair players also have to learn to avoid errors such as rolling too far for a shot.
Looking back, Welch recalls the positive attitude that wheelchair sports gave him. “I got in there and found a lot of people that were just like me, even some worse off, so immediately I had a healthy attitude about it.”
Like all of the wheelchair tennis players, Stephen Welch will compete in London at Eton Manor, a newly built 10,500-seat venue built specifically for their sport and located in the Olympic Park.Back To Athletes