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USTA awards more than $60,000 in grants to 34 wheelchair tennis programs nationwide, including 2 in Queens


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    NEW YORK (WCBS) — Five-year-old Ariyah Batson was working on her forehand at the Commonpoint Queens tennis courts on Monday.

A tumor on her spinal cord at birth left her legs paralyzed, but it doesn’t slow her down.

“Seeing other people in chairs has been amazing for her,” her mother, Shantel Batson, said.

Ariyah is one of dozens who come together in Queens Village to play wheelchair tennis.

Some are beginners, like Taneka Cousins.

“I find it to be very exciting and very challenging at the same time because I have to maneuver two objects, including my body,” she said.

Others have been playing for years, like Maximus Wong, who competes across the country.

“People should come check it out and watch. It’s really cool,” he said.

The United States Tennis Association recently awarded more than $60,000 in grants to 34 wheelchair tennis programs nationwide, including two based in Queens.

“The grant helped out a lot,” Commonpoint Queens wheelchair tennis coach Aki Wolfson said, adding she can now provide a weekly clinic that’s free to players.

Jason Harnett, the USTA’s director of wheelchair tennis, said the sport is soaring in popularity.

“I’ve been around almost 30 years. I have not seen this level of engagement,” he said.

And there’s only one difference in rules. For a player in a wheelchair, the ball can bounce twice instead of once before a shot.

“We can play on the same courts, same balls, same rackets, same dimensions, same everything,” Harnett said.

On the court, the athletes say there’s no better feeling.

“I’m so happy because I’m free,” Saheed Aare said.

“It gives you self-confidence,” Suraj Chaitan said.

“It motivates you to get better, motivates others to join you,” Tyrell Eddy added.

And a community is growing. Players say they’ve built friendships and look out for each other both on and off the court.

Lesly St. Louis, who has spina bifida, started wheelchair tennis during his childhood to connect with his sports-loving dad. Now, he’s passing on the tradition to his daughter.

“I always joke that tennis is the only sport for her. She’s 1, so she doesn’t know yet,” he said.

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