Long Island wheelchair athlete on varsity tennis team

Nate Melnyk is believed to be New York's first wheelchair athlete to compete against able-bodied students on a varsity tennis team.

- On the court, Nate Melnyk will give you a run for your money. The Harborfields High School junior is believed to be New York's first wheelchair athlete to compete against able-bodied students on a varsity tennis team.

"I enjoy being on the court because it's fun to hang around all my friends," Nate says.

A car accident in 2009 left Nate paralyzed from the waist down. Tennis has helped him heal. He uses an adjustable tennis wheelchair that helps him to make quick maneuvers without tipping over.

"He had no ability to move anything after the accident," says Mike Melnyk, Nate's father. "So it was just almost a miracle that he regained all of his upper body."

Nate says: "It gives me something to strive for because I always want to be better."

Coach Bob Davis has been watching Nate play since 8th grade. He says the other kids on the team complain a lot less. If Nate can do drills, so can they.

"When he rolled onto the court, I just couldn't believe what I was seeing," Coach Davis says. "It was pretty special."

"I always saw him in lower school and middle school and I always thought 'Oh man, that's kind of sad,'" varsity player Bobby Bellino says. "But the fact that he plays tennis, that's kind of inspiring."

"He just goes out there and plays against people of all different ages and all different abilities," Coach Davis says. "He's quite expert at getting that chair up and down and around."

The secret is to keep moving so you don't lose momentum. According to the USTA, he is allowed two bounces to return a shot but everything else is fair game. 

"It's nice when I win against the able-bodied kids because they're so much faster and they just get to everything," Nate says.

The season ends this week but Nate will continue playing in different wheelchair tournaments throughout the country. He hopes to move up the ranks to eventually join the junior national team.
 

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