The USTA announced that Brad Parks, 53, of San Clemente, Calif., and the founder of wheelchair tennis, was selected as one of six ITF Wheelchair Tennis Ambassadors to help promote wheelchair tennis worldwide. The ambassadors will make themselves available to engage with media in their own countries or at key events, such as the Grand Slam tournaments, to assist with the promotion of the sport. The ITF will also fund the ambassadors to attend all Grand Slams tournaments.
"I am extremely honored to have been asked to be an ambassador of wheelchair tennis for the ITF," said Parks. "The sport of wheelchair tennis has been such an important part of my life and I am very pleased to be able to give back to the sport and the ITF. After my accident wheelchair tennis gave me back a sport that I could enjoy with able bodied friends and family and then as the sport grew it gave me the opportunity to compete at sports’ highest levels. I hope and look forward to contributing whatever I can to the sport that has given me so much."
Parks is the pioneering founder of wheelchair tennis. Injured during a freestyle skiing competition when he was 18, the American began experimenting with tennis as recreational therapy, and in 1976 wheelchair tennis was born. Parks and several other disabled athletes began promoting wheelchair tennis in numerous exhibitions and clinics in the United States. The sport quickly grew as a result of this high exposure level, and in 1977, the first wheelchair tennis tournaments were held.
Parks staged the first international wheelchair tennis event, the US Open, in Irvine, California. He served as Tournament Chairman for 18 years, setting the standard for others to follow. He also played on the wheelchair tennis tour and won the gold medal in doubles at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona with the late Randy Snow. For his contributions to wheelchair tennis, Parks recently became the first person associated with wheelchair tennis to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Wheelchair tennis became a fully integrated part of the ITF in 1997 and has since become one of the fastest growing Paralympic sports, currently played in more than 100 countries. The NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour, organized by the ITF, currently consists of 160 tournaments in more than 40 countries offering more than $1 million in prize money. The tour includes wheelchair tennis events at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
Joining Parks as ITF Wheelchair Tennis Ambassadors are 1997 US Open semifinalist Jonas Bjorkman (SWE), esteemed wheelchair and pro tennis coach Sven Groenfeld (NED), former wheelchair world No. 1 David Hall (AUS), table tennis and wheelchair tennis Paralympian Monique Kalkman (NED), and current ATP pro and former world No. 5 Tommy Robredo (ESP).