Biola University women’s tennis coach Dee Henry, along with the tennis team, conducted a clinic on May 3, 2009 at Biola’s campus assisting 14 patients, ages 8-21, from the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in playing wheelchair tennis, attracting over 100 people including families and volunteers.
The clinic is a project inspired by the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA), who asks tennis professionals to give back to their local community through tennis instruction. These clinics have been going on since the early 1990s, and this time around, CHOC asked if Henry and the Biola women’s tennis team would like to work with spina bifida patients.

Henry said, “It seemed a good fit.”

According to the Spina Bifida Association (SBA), spina bifida is a defect that occurs at birth when the spinal column does not close completely. It can result in depression, anxiety, mobility problems, learning disorders, obesity and/or latex allergies. Patients are generally diagnosed at a young age.

Despite these sober challenges, Henry believes that tennis gives the patients a new hope. Eddie Medel began playing wheelchair tennis at Biola when he was only twelve years old.

“He had never spent a night away from his family until he started playing wheelchair tennis,” said Henry. Now Medel is internationally recognized for his athletic abilities. 

Other success stories include spina bifida patient, Vicki Sarantakos.

“By the time Vicki rolled on to the net, I knew she had potential,” said Henry. “Before our second meeting she had ordered a tennis chair and by the end of that day she had established a goal to play at the Para Olympics.”

Although she didn’t make it to the Olympics, Sarantakos achieved a ranking in 2002 from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as #40 in the world for wheelchair tennis.

“There are other victories that can’t be seen on a record book,” continues Henry, as she describes the story of one girl who had trouble pushing her chair. Henry suggested she try practicing a “push and glide” motion whenever she was on a flat surface. Henry received a call one day saying, “Coach, I practiced the push and glide and now I can push myself through the mall!”

The reward is great not only for the patients, but for the volunteers as well. All of Biola’s women tennis players help in one way or another throughout the events. One even came to Henry after a clinic and said she felt God was calling her to teach tennis.

Read the Whittier Daily News article, “Spina bifida patients learn how to play.”

Written by Ashley Shafer, Media Relations Intern