Love-Love: Students Find Community Through Rise of Wheelchair Tennis Club

December 5, 2022 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

Joseph Camano rested in his wheelchair on the baseline of the tennis court and narrowed his focus on the edge of his racket. There sat the fuzzy yellow ball.

“This might take a while,” Camano said with a grin to a nearby observer.

Moments later, however, the University of Virginia law student was positioning himself for a return shot from his opponent. Camano, who was born with a congenital disability, has no legs and only one of his arms is fully functional.

But his tennis serve? That flies across the net just like any other.

“The usual tennis serve is you throw it up with one hand and then get your racket prepped and hit it with your other,” Camano said. “Well, I don’t have a grip on my right hand, so I kind of have to figure out something different.

“So what I do is I place the ball and try to angle it on the side of my racquet. I hold it in such a way that my palm is facing down, so when I flip it up, I’m simultaneously ready to hit it.

“It’s a little bit tricky, but I’m getting used to it.”

Camano represents one-third of the roster for the UVA wheelchair tennis club team. Camano, along with teammates Mason McGrady (a third-year student majoring in computer science and public health sciences) and Jacob Wald (a second-year student majoring in computer science) will compete this weekend in the second annual Piedmont Area Tennis Association Wheelchair Tennis Open at the Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville.

The event, which is seeking volunteers to serve as ball persons and runs Friday through Sunday on the UVA indoor tennis courts at the Boar’s Head, is just part of the evolution of the club led by Catherine DeSouza, PATA’s executive director and a graduate student in UVA’s kinesiology program.

(More information on the tournament, which begins Friday at 9 a.m., can be found here.)

“We’re just this little family,” DeSouza said. “Everybody gets along so well. It really gives these guys opportunities. It’s been a great experience so far.”

UVA Today was recently invited to the Boar’s Head to watch the club practice.

Woman in orange UVA sweatshirt, while holding a racket, provides instruction at a wheelchair tennis practice. In foreground is UVA student in a wheelchair.
DeSouza, who’s long been involved in tennis at the local and national levels, started the UVA wheelchair tennis club last spring. Camano, pictured in the foreground, is among her athletes. “I’m just really impressed with how far the program’s come in just a year,” said Camano, a Virginia Beach native. “Coming into it, everyone was so welcoming, and it really provides community and space for me to really push myself and relate to people. Growing up, there wasn’t a big adaptive sports community. So being able to foster that community here at UVA is really great.”
Man in wheelchair hits tennis ball.
McGrady, who’s paralyzed from the chest down, connected with DeSouza with the idea of forming a wheelchair tennis team at UVA. They soon earned official club status and were able to participate in the Collegiate Wheelchair National Championship last April in Orlando, Florida. McGrady’s passion for tennis is undeniable. “I want to get good,” he said. “I really do want to keep competing nationally. That’s the goal for anybody who plays wheelchair tennis and who’s relatively young. I want to go far with this – past college – because this really feels like my sport.”
A New Focus To Fight Macular Degeneration, to be great and good in all we do
A New Focus To Fight Macular Degeneration, to be great and good in all we do
Man in wheelchair serves tennis ball.
Diagnosed with the rare neurological condition transverse myelitis at 11 years old, Wald has reduced mobility. Wheelchair tennis has allowed him to compete in sports again – something he did regularly before his diagnosis. “Finding this community of disabled people at UVA has been super awesome because you don’t feel like you’re alone,” Wald said. “It’s just an awesome outlet because plenty of disabled people love playing sports and it’s just cool we have something like this.”
Man in wheelchair hits tennis ball during a match. In background is the other participant in the match.
The only rule change in wheelchair tennis compared to regular tennis is the ball is allowed two bounces on each side of the net before a return shot is required. “Here, it’s not centered around the disability,” McGrady said. “It’s centered around doing a sport. And the fact that we all have disabilities is an added benefit. We all have shared experiences in certain ways, and this is our competitive outlet.”
Man in wheelchair follows through after hitting tennis shot.
This weekend’s tournament at the Boar’s Head is another step for the progress of UVA wheelchair tennis – and the disabled community in general. “I think the goal is to make UVA more attractive for disabled students,” Wald said. “We don’t have a big presence, so we want to establish a program at UVA that’s going to last a long time. We want more people to come to UVA to expand the team. We want to have more fun and play in bigger tournaments.” Information about supporting the UVA wheelchair tennis club can be found through emailing

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications