The Paralympic dream of a wheelchair tennis player from Anmore is getting more real.
Thomas Venos, 20, recently competed at his first major multi-sport event, the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. He reached the second round in the men’s singles competition but he and his doubles partner, Jonathan Tremblay, were eliminated after the first round of their event.
But more important than the results, Venos said, was he learned about what it takes to reach the top level of international competition.
The biggest lesson came from his doubles match, in which he and Tremblay faced a team from Argentina led by the top-ranked men’s singles player in the world, Gustavo Fernandez.
Venos, who’s currently ranked 73rd in singles, said the Argentinian played at “another level,” adding, “He’s super fast and hits at a consistent pace.”
The 32 minutes it took for Fernandez and his partner to eliminate the Canadian duo in straight sets will mean more work in the gym and more time on the court now that he’s back in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Venos is studying elementary education at the University of Alabama and plays for the school’s six-member wheelchair tennis team.
Amidst his studies, Venos said he spends an hour in the gym three days a week and another two hours on the court every afternoon. He works on his power and consistency, aiming to achieve a more natural union with athletic skills the former dirt biker and soccer player has been developing since he suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorbiking accident at his family’s cabin in the Cariboo that left him paralyzed from the hips down.
Venos said maneuvering a wheelchair and swinging a tennis racket don’t come naturally, so his newfound passion for the sport has been a constant learning curve since he first tried it out while rehabbing at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.
“I would say the hardest thing is moving the chair with the racket in your hand,” he said.
Venos’ first tennis breakthrough was at a major tournament in Indian Wells, Calif. in 2016, where he won his division without losing a single match.
This year, Venos said, he feels his game has taken another leap forward since he started the summer ranked 115th in the world. To attain a ranking in the top 60 that he said could get him to the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan next summer, he’ll have to keep progressing over the next several months as his school’s team competes at tournaments in Hilton Head, S.C., Chicago and Mazatlan, Mexico.
And if he gets to Tokyo, Venos said his experience in Lima will serve him well, as he’ll already have some familiarity with the pressure and hoopla that comes with big, international multi-sport competitions.
“It’s basically a mini Paralympics,” he said of the Parapan Games. “I think it will be good moving forward.”