Mpower Sports caught up with U.S. Wheelchair Tennis doubles pair, Shelby Baron, 22 years old, and Emmy Kaiser, 26, who advanced as far as the quarterfinals before falling 2-0 to the top Dutch pair, Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot.
Mpower Sports: From a spectator perspective, it’s easy to follow wheelchair tennis because it looks very similar to able-body tennis and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Are there any differences that we might not have noticed?
Emmy: The only real difference, if we choose, we can take two bounces. The first bounce has to be in the court, the same as able bodied. Second bounce can be anywhere, but that’s up to us. Other than that, it’s the same game. I learned that at my high school — same game!
Mpower Sports: Emmy you play in Cincinatti. How long have you played wheelchair tennis?
Emmy: Almost my whole life. [Started at age 5.]
Mpower Sports: How about you Shelby?
Shelby: Around 10 years.
Mpower Sports: As a first time Paralympian, how does it feel to play in this atmosphere in Rio?
Shelby: It feels amazing. Brazilians are wonderful, lively people. Even when there is no one from Team Brazil at the court, they are there watching you and cheering you on. It feels really personal. You feel their support a lot.
Mpower Sports: How about you Emmy? Can you compare your experience with London?
Emmy: It’s really hard to compare. It’s two completely different worlds. For me London, especially in the singles court I was playing in the centre court, so that was a pretty special experience. It was scary because you play in front of ten thousand people. People are so friendly here that even though we don’t have our coaches or own American fans, we’ve got nobody- but we’ve got Brazilians behind us. It’s so much fun. You definitely pick it up on the court.
Mpower Sports: Tell us about the tennis wheelchair. Is it built similar to a basketball wheelchair or daily wheelchair?
Shelby: The tennis wheelchair is pretty different. It’s a lot more cambered, which means that the wheels are a lot more angled. It helps us move quicker and turn quicker. We’ve got one or two bars on the back and the last wheel is behind us. That’s just to prevent tipping. Our chairs are very tippy. Center balance is a little bit different. You want to be able to push faster and get the ball faster.
Emmy: The only other thing I’d add is they’re lighter than rugby or basketball because there is no impact…so we can move easier.
Mpower Sports: Any funny moments so far at these games?
Emmy: For me a funny awkward situation today, the dad of one of the athletes introduced himself. He was talking to me, because I played against his daughter. He was saying how strong I am and maybe a little bit too strong on the court sometimes, so he goes and picks up my hand and kisses my biceps!
Mpower Sports: Serious! How about you Shelby?
Shelby: Before we left for Rio, we got an email from our team leader, saying, ‘Be careful of your stuff, Team USA’s stuff is hot commodity.’ I was like, ‘what does that mean?’ We all got this pin pouch we can trade about. I ran into a worker. He asked if he could have one. I thought it was harmless, so I gave him four, because there was him and his three co-workers. All of a sudden, everyone swarms us, their hands are all in front of my face, “Pin, Pin, Pin, Pin!”
Mpower Sports: That’s a crazy story and super funny! Thanks for sharing. So, kind of a tough defeat to the Dutch, but to the very best opponent. What’s next in your lives?
Shelby: I am applying for graduate school. I want to continue my education for the next years at the University of Alabama. Wherever I go, I hope to play tennis and continue the high level performance and training because it’s got me really far in the past couple years.
Emmy: I have to finish my masters. I’m working on my thesis.
Mpower Sports: What’s it on?
Emmy: Sports and Exercise psychology.
Mpower Sports: Last question — what is your least favorite question from the media?
Emmy: The questions about being inspiring. When they see us as an inspiration and not an athlete first. I kind of dread going into those kind of interviews.