Tennis for Fun

by: Cathy Herard | October 30, 2013

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Courtesy of Cathy Herard

Living as a family with autism we’ve had ups and downs, laughter and tears, heartbreak and excitement. But through it all, we’ve always been a family living with autism. This wasn’t just a diagnosis given to my son Cody, it’s shared by his brother, his father and me.

Whether it’s the tough times when we sometimes get frustrated or the most wonderful times like when we celebrated Cody’s first ride in an elevator, we’re in this together. (Oh, how I wish I could put into words just how much of a milestone this was for Cody and all of the hard work it took to make it happen.) I sometimes just listen or watch as Cody finds joy in the things others might consider mundane or no big deal. Like that tiny speck off in the distance, way up high in the sky, which happens to be an airplane. He always catches sight of them way before anyone else, and we all have to stop and focus until we can see it too.

He has such a pure heart, one that simply doesn’t know how to judge or be critical of others, one that loves the most unconditional of any other. There are often times when I wish I could view the world the way that he does, in a way that’s filled with so much joy and excitement for all of the things that he loves most—some of the most simple things, like watching The Price is Right every day after school or boosting the number of views on his favorite YouTube videos of rides at Walt Disney World. These are activities that make him happy, so they make me happy as well. Regardless of what he might be doing at the moment, you can bet there’s a smile on his face and you can be certain that not too far away is someone who loves him most in the world, watching on and smiling too. In a way, I guess you could say that Cody’s autism is contagious, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Several years ago, someone who worked with Cody took him to play tennis at our local city park. At the time I thought it was a wonderful extra activity for him and a way to interact with his peers. I didn’t realize that it was an “official” program for athletes with special needs. That program is called Tennis for Fun, a free tennis clinic for athletes with special needs. It is a volunteer organization that provides athletes with an opportunity to have fun playing tennis, to learn basic skills and to socialize with each other. The program specializes with athletes of all ages that are intellectually handicapped, especially those with Down Syndrome, but other special needs athletes are also welcome to join the program. Tennis For Fun is entirely a volunteer organization. All services and equipment are donated by wonderful and dedicated volunteers.

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to Nathan Moore for starting Tennis for Fun with the goal of creating a positive and fun activity for special-needs athletes. I’m also grateful to his mom, Judy, and all of the selfless volunteers who give of their time for athletes with special needs. I had the pleasure to meet Judy at our local clinic, and she clearly loves what she does. She was kind, patient and helpful as she guided Cody through all of the basic tennis skills. The best part for me is that he gets to be among his peers for an entire hour while being active and participating in something he truly enjoys.

This type of activity is priceless to a person with special needs, as well as for the people who love them. Cody is truly a homebody and puts up a fight to go just about everywhere—except, of course, the airport when leaving on a trip to his favorite place on Earth, in which case he is the first one ready to leave. I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t argue, even a little bit, after I told him we would be going to play tennis on Friday afternoons.

Tennis for Fun has brought out Cody’s competitive spirit and his drive to do well at something once again. Those concepts may seem so simple and innate to many of us, but for someone like Cody, someone with autism, it didn’t always come naturally. When I began to see it emerge in Cody, though, it was truly magical because it felt like a hint of normal that so many of us crave to see in our kids when they are on the autism spectrum. It fills me with joy to have found an activity where Cody can have a little fun, learn a new skill and be with other kids who have special needs. I also can’t tell you who looks more forward to Friday afternoon these days because I literally count down the hours until we get to leave for the tennis courts.

The word “hero” is defined as a person who is idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. To see more examples of heroism, and compelling evidence that this sport suffers no shortage of such individuals, click here.

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