East Ridge's Rydberg heading to London
For Jon Rydberg, it's been a work in progress. But now the progress has paid off.
Rydberg, the head girls tennis coach at East Ridge High School, is heading to London, England after being selected to represent the United States in the 2012 Paralympic Games in September.
It'll be Rydberg's third Paralympic Games, which are part of the Olympics since 1960.
"I am just as happy to be there, but I think I have a different mindset this time around," said Rydberg, who was injured in an accident when he was 13 months old and is now in a wheelchair. "I'm just going to show up and see what happens. If I draw the No. 1 player in the world in the first round and am defeated, so be it. If I get through a couple of rounds like I have in the past that's good too I guess."
In addition to his two Paralympics appearances in 2004 and 2008, Rydberg has played in three US Opens and is an 11-time United States Wheelchair World Cup team member.
He said being part of the Olympic games stands out, however.
"It's always on the top of everyone's list," he said. "All the top players in the world are there and it means the most to us tennis players."
This year, the U.S. will be one of 30 countries represented by the 112 wheelchair tennis competitors from around the world, vying for gold in the men's, women's and quad events. The competition will take place at Eton Manor, a newly built 10,500 seat venue built specifically for wheelchair tennis located in London's Olympic Park.
"It's good timing," Rydberg said. "Now I'm starting my East Ridge stuff and some family things this summer. I can focus on those things right now. That's a good relief. I can start training hard when we get closer to going to London."
The men's team will be led by Rydberg, an Oakdale resident, Stephen Welch (Southlake, Texas), Steve Baldwin (San Diego, Calif.), and Noah Yablong (Tucson, Ariz.). The women's team will feature Emmy Kaiser (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.), and Mackenzie Soldan (Louisville, Ky.). The quad team, led by two-time doubles gold medalists David Wagner (San Diego, Calif.), and Nick Taylor (Wichita, Kan.), will also include first-time Paralympian Bryan Barten (Tucson, Ariz.). The team will be led by head coach Dan James, of St. Paul.
Roughly two years ago, Rydberg got back into competitive tennis with the hopes of playing in the London Paralympics. Since then, he has been working hard to regain the form that had him ranked as the No. 1 wheelchair tennis player in the country in years past. Rydberg, 35, peaked at No. 11 in the world in 2007. He is currently ranked 27th in the world and No. 2 in the United States behind Welch, who is ranked 22nd in the world. France's Stephane Houdet is the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
"I've been trying to do it without playing a full schedule," Rydberg said. "I was 95 percent sure I was in there the last two weeks before the deadline. But, the last two tournaments I played in I did really well and went to a couple finals which easily got me in the top 30 and the cutoff to go. It was a good feeling to do it despite not playing as much as I usually would."
In addition to being a successful wheelchair tennis player, Rydberg is an accomplished wheelchair basketball player, earning a scholarship to play at the University of Texas-Arlington, where he helped lead the school to a national championship in 1997. Rydberg holds a degree in art from the University of Texas-Arlington.
For most of his tournaments, Rydberg is on his own financially, except for events where he plays on a team for the United States, like the World Team Cup, then the United States Tennis Association (USTA) pays the bill. The USTA was officially designated by the USOC as the national governing body for the Paralympic sport of wheelchair tennis in June 2002, becoming the first Olympic national governing body to earn this recognition. As the national governing body for wheelchair tennis, the USTA manages wheelchair tennis in the United States, including the sanctioning of tournaments, overseeing wheelchair rankings, creating and managing a High Performance program for developing elite disabled athletes, and selecting teams to compete internationally for the United States.
"The USTA is the national governing body for Paralympic Tennis and is proud of the wheelchair tennis athletes who will represent the United States at this year's Paralympic Games," said Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. "Their ability to train their minds and bodies in order to earn the title 'Paralympian' is illustrative of their commitment and dedication to the sport of tennis. Watching them compete will be an honor."
This year's Paralympic Games marks the sixth time wheelchair tennis will be part of the competition.
Wheelchair tennis was introduced to the Paralympic program in 1988 as an exhibition event before becoming a full medal sport at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Paralympic tennis is an open competition, eligible to those athletes with a mobility-related disability. All competitors must compete in a wheelchair. More than 4,200 elite athletes with physical disabilities from around the world are expected to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Rydberg said he will be in London for two-and-a-half weeks and will miss a portion of the upcoming girls tennis season. But, he said he doesn't think anyone will mind too much.
"We'll make sure to cover our bases and make sure we have extra help when I'm gone, so the girls are taken care of. But, it won't be a big deal," he said. "I think it's good for the girls to see and good for the school in general."