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National championships test town’s accessibility

Top wheelchair tennis players head to Whistler

The top wheelchair tennis players in Canada are in Whistler this weekend for the 2006 Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, which are being held from Thursday through Sunday at the Whistler Racquet Club — a site chosen for its accessibility, as well as to serve as a test event prior to the 2010 Paralympic Games to determine what accessibility issues exist in Whistler.

More than $15,000 in prize money is up for grabs, as well as hosting grants, travel grants and a chair donation. The prizes are being supplied by Bruce and Betty Birmingham of Ontario, two long-time supporters of wheelchair tennis in Canada.

“We have never had this kind of support before,” said Severine Tamborero. “Their sponsorship includes grants for national and developmental players to attend the tournament.”

On the men’s side, the list of players includes Yann Mathieu of Trois Rivieres, Quebec, the 2005 national doubles and singles champion, now ranked 30 th in the world. Also represented is Phil Rowe of Langley, currently number two in Canada as well as 39 th in the world. Christoph Trachsel of Montreal is number four in Canada, number 62 in the world, and with Mathieu is the defending national doubles champion.

Vancouver’s Yuka Chokyu, the 2005 champion and ranked ninth in the world, is one top Canadian woman to watch for. Helene Simard of Quebec is a close rival, ranked second in Canada and 18 th in the world. She’s also a five-time national singles champion and Paralympian. Annie Morissette, Canada’s number three athlete will also be on hand.

Paralympic athlete Sarah Hunter of White Rock, who is sixth in the world in the quadriplegic division, will also compete after taking time off to give birth to her first child. Other players in the quad category are Adrian Dieleman of Ancaster, Ontario, the reigning national champion, and Ken Bartel of Surrey — number three in Canada and number 43 in the world.

The competition gets underway on Thursday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. with the men’s Open Division matches. All of the other divisions will start on Friday morning at 9 a.m., with the final matches in both singles and doubles taking place on Sunday.

The championships are being co-hosted by the B.C. Wheelchair Sports Association and Tennis Canada.

Wheelchair tennis has been around since the 1970s and was a Paralympic demonstration sport in 1988 before becoming a regular part of the Paralympic Games in 1992.

Rules are the same as in able-bodied tennis with one exception — the ball is allowed to bounce twice before being returned.

Most normal athletic wheelchairs can be used, although some athletes use a chair with a wheel in front to prevent them from tipping forward while reaching for shots.