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Presidents Letter May 2019

Kentucky Tennis Family,

I have a question for you …what do Egypt, Peru, Kentucky and USTA have in common? The answer is, “a lot more than you might think,” and I am so excited to share this amazing connection with you this month!

 

Something you may not know about me is that for approximately 8 years I have been doing contract work with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace and Society (CSPS) as a Program Assistant. In this role, I provide logistical support in the Center’s implementation of the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), an initiative created by the U.S. Department of State’s Sport Diplomacy Division, which aims to empower women and girls and persons with disabilities through sport.

 

The GSMP includes two pillars, Empowering Women through Sports and Sport 4 Community. These five-week mentorship experiences focus on empowering international delegates to serve their local communities by increasing access to, and opportunities for, participation in sports by tapping into the unique power of mentoring.

 

It is the Sports 4 Community program where the unique intersection of Egypt, Peru, Kentucky and USTA occurs.  The Sport 4 Community program focuses on the development of community leaders around the world who are striving to improve access to the many benefits of sports participation for people with disabilities.

 

Enter Joanne Wallen, Director of Adult Individual Play and Wheelchair Tennis for the for the USTA and Tournament Director of the US Open Wheelchair event.  Jo is a former USTA Kentucky Board Member and was the General Manager of the Lexington Tennis Club until she moved to the USTA National offices in 2016. After many discussions about the program over the past couple of years, 2019 was the perfect time for Jo and the USTA to become a Sport 4 Community mentor/mentor organization and it was with great excitement and anticipation that Jo and USTA welcomed not one but TWO delegates to the National Campus in Orlando, Florida in April - Jorge Beltran of Peru and Mahmoud Youssuf of Egypt!

 

Jorge grew up in Peru, where he developed a love of sports. He played any sport his parents would let him, so when a snowboarding accident left him with paraplegia, his passion became adaptive sports. After earning an undergraduate degree in economics and developing a career as a financial analyst, Jorge combined his passion and education and founded, “bent but not broken,” a non-profit organization that promotes adaptive sports and inclusive experiences for persons with disabilities. Jorge found his niche serving the community in Peru, but he knew he could do more.

Jorge knew that persons with disabilities faced inadequate employment opportunities and had little access to inclusive programming. But he also saw that they specifically needed access to adaptive equipment. So, Jorge founded, “Tecnologia Adaptada,” a company that produces ultralight wheelchairs. In combination with his non-profit organization, Jorge is on a mission to increase the quality of life for persons with disabilities in Peru and to empower a new generation of youth through adaptive sports.  He is also a developing wheelchair tennis player, so connecting him with USTA was an obvious choice!

Mahmoud Youssuf, a kung-fu champion and coach in Egypt, knows the power that sport has to transform lives, so after an injury he transitioned to para-sports. Now, as a professional wheelchair tennis player, marathoner, and CrossFit athlete, Mahmoud travels the country as a motivational speaker. In addition to sharing his story with audiences and encouraging them to pursue their best lives through physical activity, Mahmoud also works as a personal trainer for athletes with disabilities and as an ambassador for the Helm Foundation, an organization in Egypt that promotes inclusion.

Mahmoud is on a mission to address the lack of rehabilitation services and accessibility in public spaces by using his platform to raise awareness and create opportunity, with a long-term goal of founding an inclusive fitness center. 

So, there you have it. That’s how current and former Kentuckians, a Peruvian and an Egyptian crossed paths with USTA and are making a difference in our world!  Some might say its luck. I’d say it had nothing to do with luck. It’s what happens when we expand our field of vision beyond our own front door and we share our passion – in this case our love of tennis – with our neighbors next door, down the street, across town and around the globe.

In closing, I want to share with you that, despite progress over the years, accessibility challenges, social exclusion, and a lack of educational and sports opportunities, continue to keep people with disabilities marginalized, both around the world and even here in America.  Evidence shows that when people with disabilities are given opportunities to participate in sports, they experience an increase in self-confidence, social inclusion, economic empowerment, employment, and independence. With the growth of the Paralympic Games (which includes tennis!) and the increasing development of adaptive sports worldwide, the time is right to empower leaders with a passion and commitment for promoting equality and opportunity so that everyone receives the opportunity to get in the game.

I am committed to continuing to ensure that, as an organization, USTA Kentucky continues to support, sponsor and encourage programs that provide opportunities for people with disabilities to access the many physical, social and emotional benefits that tennis provides!

What’s your serve?

Rainey Johns
USTA Kentucky President

 

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